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Groundwater Contamination: Pollutants, Priorities, and the Pursuit of Sensible Regulation

Alan Jay Gilbert, Proceedings of 32nd Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1986)

The mining and oil and gas industries have received sustained attention from groundwater regulators and others.7 Whether or not that attention is justified in comparison with [2-5] other sources, it surely will result in additional siting costs, permitting difficulties, and delays.8 Protection of groundwater resources may in some areas prohibit the land and water disturbances associated with minerals exploration and exploitation.9

The nature of the groundwater resource and the threats to its quality dramatically complicate regulation.10 The resource is immense, filling underground zones which extend [2-6] virtually the entire length and breadth of the nation.11 It is hidden.12 It changes quality substantially from place to place, and from one depth to another at the same location.13 A vast array of contaminant sources and a myriad of pollutants can affect it in controlled and uncontrolled ways.14 As a result, choices of regulatory strategies to protect groundwater are more complex than in the closely associated areas of air pollution and water pollution control.15

The current state of regulation reflects these problems. A host of administrative groundwater programs on the national level compete with a broad patchwork of state and local programs.16 While some enterprises labor under burden-some regulation, others, which seemingly have much the same effects on