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In re Florence Copper, Inc.

09/22/2017
Case Number:UIC Appeal Nos. 17-01 and 17-03
ELR Citation:48 ELR 41398

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) Region 9 (“Region”) issued an Underground Injection Control (“UIC”) permit to Florence Copper, Inc., authorizing the company to construct and operate a Production Test Facility in Pinal County, Arizona. The Permit, issued under the Safe Drinking Water Act (“SDWA”), authorizes Florence Copper to engage in in-situ copper mining at the Production Test Facility, which involves drilling wells and injecting acid into copper ore deposits for the purpose of copper recovery and production testing.

The Production Test Facility’s well field is located within the boundary of a UIC permit that the Region issued in 1997 to BHP Copper Inc. (“BHP”), authorizing BHP to operate an in-situ copper recovery facility. At the same time the Region issued BHP the 1997 permit, the Region also granted an aquifer exemption pursuant to 40 C.F.R. § 146.4.

The Town of Florence and SWVP-GTIS MR, LLC (collectively, “Town of Florence” or “Town”) (UIC Appeal No. 17-03) and Mr. John L. Anderson (UIC Appeal No. 17-01) timely filed with the Board petitions for review of the Region’s permit decision.

The Town’s Petition is based on one overarching contention: namely, that the Region clearly erred, abused its discretion, or made inappropriate policy choices when the Region relied on the 1997 aquifer exemption in issuing the Permit. The Town maintains that land uses and local zoning regulations have “changed dramatically” since issuance of the 1997 aquifer exemption and, as a consequence, the contours of the Exemption are “based on circumstances that no longer exist.” The Town contends that the Region should have rescinded or revoked the 1997 aquifer exemption and prepared a new aquifer exemption specifically tailored to the small scope of Florence Copper’s Production Test Facility.

Mr. Anderson’s Petition essentially raises three general concerns: (1) sources of drinking water will not be adequately protected from migrating mining-related fluids; (2) aquifers cannot be successfully restored after in-situ mining activities; and (3) any one of the “cons” identified in an article published by the Arizona Geological Survey summarizing the use of solution mining for copper extraction justify denying the Permit.

Held: The Board denies both petitions for review.