Earlier this week, the U.S. EPA released its “Internal Review of the August 5, 2015 Gold King Mine Blowout,” which provides the EPA Internal Review Team’s “one week rapid assessment” of the events and potential factors contributing to the Colorado mine adit blowout earlier this month.  The Review sets out a series of conclusions and recommendations, many of which lay the foundation for absolving the U.S. EPA of any wrongdoing here while proposing extensive recommendations for the future.

For example, the Team concluded that:

  • The on-site mine team had “extensive experience with the investigation and closure of mines,” and no one on that team or anyone it consulted “raised any significant concerns with the proposed activities.”
  • Although the Emergency Action Plan as part of the proposed activities “lack[ed] emergency protocols in the case of a significant flow or blow out,” “the site team responded appropriately during and after the blowout.”
  • The Adit blowout “was likely inevitable,” with the Team believing that “the underestimation of the water pressure” in the mine was “the most significant factor relating to the blowout.”

 Going forward, the Team recommended that:

  • The U.S. EPA “develop guidance to outline the steps that should be taken to minimize the risk of an adit blowout.”
  • The U.S. EPA “develop a toolbox of additional investigative tools such as remote sensing or drilling into the mine pool from the top or side” to better evaluate the chance of encountering pressurized mine water.
  • Emergency Action Plans should include protocols for mine blowout.
  • Where adit blowout is a concern, all information developed in anticipation of an investigation or cleanup “should be critically reviewed by a qualified and experienced Regional Mining Engineer and/or Mining Hydrologist/Geologist.”

The Review is available here. This Review is the first of three expected by the federal government: the U.S. EPA’s Office of Inspector General will conduct an assessment, and the U.S. Department of the Interior will also conduct its own assessment. 

All of these assessments could have significant financial implications for the U.S. EPA in any litigation to come.