Mining sinkhole leaks radioactive water into FL aquifer; Now seeking discharge permit over NM aquifer
One day after the state’s Environment Department announced that Mosaic mining company was seeking a permit to discharge 7,500,000 gallons of mining waste water into the ground in Eddy County, the company noticed that it was missing millions of gallons of radioactive wastewater from another facility. They found it in a drinking water aquifer in central Florida.
Though they knew the radioactive and acidic water was draining uncontrollably, neither the company nor Florida’s environment department, under Republican Governor Rick Scott, notified the public for three weeks.
9 company sites mishandle wastewater; $2 billion in cleanup costs (so far)
Florida’s WFLA reports:
Massive sinkhole drains contaminated water into Floridan aquifer
POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A massive sinkhole on top of a Mosaic gypsum stack near Mulberry allowed millions of gallons of contaminated water to flow into the Floridan Aquifer…
The sinkhole opened up almost three weeks ago. Since then, about 215 million gallons of contaminated water have drained into the aquifer. The sinkhole is about 40 feet across. It’s depth is unknown… The water is contaminated with phosphoric acid and is slightly radioactive.
And Mosaic has had other problems around the country. Again, the Tampa Bay Times:
Mosaic has run afoul of environmental regulators before.
Last October, it agreed to pay nearly $2 billion to settle a federal lawsuit over hazardous waste and to clean up operations at six Florida sites and two in Louisiana.
The EPA said it had discovered Mosaic employees were mixing highly corrosive substances from its fertilizer operations with the solid waste and wastewater from mineral processing, in violation of federal and state hazardous waste laws.
The sinkhole is the second to open at the New Wales plant, following a 120-foot-wide one in 1994 at a different section of the facility.
The Florida spill comes on the heels of a huge expansion program by the company designed to increase its share of the fertilizer and corporate crop production industry.
In 2008, the company announced a multi-billion dollar international expansion effort focussed on increasing potash and fertilizer production.
In 2014, Mosaic announced a $225 million expansion of that Florida fertilizer plant where, by 2016, it was unable to control the loss of millions of gallons of waste from that expanded facility.
Mosaic seeks permit to discharge 7.5 million gallons of wastewater into Eddy County ground
Just after Mosaic, Louisiana and federal regulators announced a $2 billion settlement to federal lawsuits over Mosaics wastewater mishandling and spills at 8 other sites, Mosaic applied for a new discharge permit from Governor Martinez’s Environment Department.
This permit will be one of the first tests of Martinez’s acting Environment Department Secretary, Butch Tongate, who served as deputy to controversial Secretary Ryan Flynn, a former oil and gas lawyer, who left the Martinez administration to lobby for one of the industries he regulated as head the state’s largest oil and gas industry advocacy group.
Mosaic, under a potential agreement with New Mexico’s Environment Dept., is planning on discharging 7.5 million gallons of brine-water a day into Eddy Co.’s ecosystem which comes with the potential of contaminating neighboring drinking, recreational, and agricultural water. The discharge location had been approved by State regulators, but the company has asked to move the site without further study or analysis of the new location.
While discharge permits are routinely rubber stamped by state regulators all over the country as an “operational” necessity, Mosaic’s record of environmental problems under their rapid-expansion program should require strict review by both NMED and Eddy County officials.
Previous wastewater discharges caused huge Eddy Co. sinkhole; Mining company walked away
The Carlsbad I&W Brine Well caused a sinkhole under Carlsbad. The company behind it went out of business, leaving taxpayers to cover the estimated $25 million cleanup costs.
The Santa Fe New Mexican:
“Where did the company go?” Rep. Bealquin “Bill” Gomez, D-La Mesa, asked Wednesday. “So nice and easy — cause a problem and walk away.”
There are nine active brine wells in the state — which pump freshwater into salt caverns to create saltwater used in oil and gas drilling. Collapses occur when a shallow well has a significantly larger width than its depth; if too much salt is removed, the well is hollowed, and the earth above it is unsupported.
Experts from the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department say the shallow depth and location of this well in Carlsbad make it the only one in the state that is in danger of caving in: It is 456 feet deep and thousands of feet wide.
The issue came to light in 2008, when two brine wells outside Carlsbad collapsed within a four-month period. Investigators then discovered that the mine beneath a busy intersection in Carlsbad was also at risk of a similar fate.
From the Carlsbad Current-Argus:
An article published by the Santa Fe/New Mexican alleged that Gov. Susana Martinez who is throwing her support behind the bill, received campaign contributions from the former owners of I&W Inc., Lowell Irby and his son Eugene Irby.
The well is the result of mining operations by I&W, who filed for bankruptcy before they could fix the potential sinkhole.
According to data from the New Mexico State Secretary website, contributions from the Irby family totaled $19,750 between 2010 and 2014.
Potash mining is an important industry for New Mexico, and it provides many good jobs in Southeast New Mexico. But, like any industry, the long-term impact to our environment can outlast any short-term local impact on jobs (especially if the company causes another spill that puts the workers out of business and costs taxpayer dollars to manage the cleanup).
New Mexico’s Environment Department accepts public comment on Wastewater Discharge Permits.
You can take action by contacting these officials and asking them to review Mosaic’s environmental record in other states and require a full environmental review of the pending permit: