EPA Official Says He ‘Personally Knew’ The Gold King Mine’s Potential Dangers

Photo: Gold King Mine Entrance Aug 13 Aerial (AP)
Wastewater flows down a trough, right, from the site of the blowout at the Gold King mine in August 2015.

More confirmation came Thursday that government workers knew a spill from the Gold King Mine was possible.

An EPA cleanup crew accidentally triggered the 3-million-gallon spill last August.

The new information comes from a probe into the spill by the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources. The Republican majority on the committee released a 73-page investigation of what it calls “shifting accounts of the events leading up to the spill," between the EPA's internal review and a Bureau of Reclamation report.

The full committee has not adopted the findings.

Along with the report came an email from the EPA official in charge of the site, Hays Griswold, in which he says he "personally knew" the plugged, inactive mine could contain large volumes of water.

In the email, he describes the sequence of events that brought him to the mine, what he assessed, and what happened:

The blockage was compacted tight and very solid in appearance. The material could be seen packed tightly around the collapsed and broken timbers. There was no water seeping through at these higher levels or any sign that there had been at any time. But that did not necessarily mean that there was no water backed up this high behind the blockage which is what the BOR report purported incorrectly. It also meant this material was packed very tightly and impervious to water and could very effectively hold water back. I personally knew it could be holding back a lot of water and I believe the others in the group knew as well. This is why I was approaching this adit as if it were full...

In the letter he goes on to challenge a Bureau of Reclamation report "that we were not aware of the characteristics of the blockage."

"They were fully aware that I had pointed out these characteristics to them on site. I repeat that to point that out that I was thoroughly familiar with the characteristics of the material having worked in the district a few years as an exploration geologist and geological engineer.


BOR incorrectly states that we discussed the situation and decided to continue digging. This is patently false and a mischaracterization of the facts. The statement implies we proceeded to dig into the blockage. At no time did we discuss actually opening the adit or digging into it. The truth is we decided to avoid any contact with the blockage whatsoever and simply remove the loose dirt above the blockage for two reasons. First, to prevent it from falling down and covering what we had exposed and second, to reveal the bedrock above the blockage in order to better plan the next steps. Perhaps the author would have got these details correctly had he not slept through my interview and presentation.

In a related story, the head of the New Mexico Environment Department accused the EPA of downplaying the long-term effects of the Gold King Mine spill.

Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn on Wednesday told members of a state legislative committee that the agency plans to monitor water quality for one year to ensure it's safe for recreational use.

Flynn said the agency instead needs to treat the incident as a human health issue.

New Mexico announced last month it intends to sue the EPA, the state of Colorado and the owners of two Colorado mines over the Aug. 5 spill. The EPA claims a contractor accidentally unleashed more than 3 million gallons of contaminated water during a cleanup project.

The EPA did not immediately respond to Flynn's criticisms.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.