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EPA begins drilling relief well at Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel

Release Date: 05/14/2008
Contact Information: Jennifer Lane 303 312-6813; Richard Mylott 303 312-6654

Drilling expected to take two to three weeks, well to be operational by mid-June

(Denver, Colo. -- May 14, 2008) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began drilling a relief well into the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel today, an important step towards the removal and treatment of large volumes of metals-contaminated water that have accumulated in Leadville's historic mining district in Lake County, Colo.

An EPA contractor, the Layne Christensen Company, began drilling the well this morning with a 40-foot truck-mounted drill rig and a 24-inch drill bit.

The Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel lies approximately 350 feet below the surface and contains an estimated 500 million to one billion gallons of water that has become trapped behind various blockages over the past decades. Drilling the relief well is expected to take two to three weeks, and the installation of a pump will follow. EPA estimates that the well will be operational by mid-June. Water pumped from the well will be transported via pipeline to a water treatment plant operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which has agreed to treat the water before it is released into the Arkansas River.

"Drilling the relief well is an important step towards addressing any risks that this water may present," said EPA regional administrator, Robert E. Roberts. "We continue to work towards the day when we begin pumping water out of the tunnel and sending it to the treatment plant."

EPA has been taking action to relieve the pressure associated with water trapped in the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel since February. To date, efforts to remove the water blocked in the tunnel have included constructing a road to the site of the relief well, constructing the drill pad, securing access from property owners, and clearing and trenching a route to place more than one-half mile of pipeline from the well site to the water treatment plant. The Agency began pumping water from nearby mine workings at a location known as the Gaw Shaft on February 27. The Gaw Shaft pump will remain operational until pumping from the tunnel begins.

For more information on the Leadville Mine Drainage Response: