Regulators say coal industry ignoring construction standards
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With a driver and his bulldozer missing in a thick, dark lake of coal slurry, a mine-safety expert and critic of the coal industry says regulators are ignoring stricter construction standards that could prevent more failures at hundreds of similar damlike structures nationwide.
For at least a decade, state and federal regulators have allowed coal companies to build or expand huge ponds of gray liquid and silt atop loose and wet coal waste, said Jack Spadaro, an engineering consultant and former director of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy.
“They're building on top of the existing slurry, and therein lies the problem,” he said. “It's wet, and it has no stability. It's creating hazards for all of us downstream.”
There are 596 coal-slurry impoundments in 21 states. West Virginia has 114 — more than any other state, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. Kentucky has 104, and Illinois is third with 71.
Slurry is a byproduct of washing coal to help it burn more cleanly. Companies have disposed of the dirty water and solids in various ways over the years, injecting it into abandoned mines; damming it in huge ponds, such as the one at Robinson Run; and, disposing of it with a costly dry filter-press process.
Spadaro's criticisms follow the Nov. 30 failure of a section of embankment at Consol Energy's Robinson Run mine slurry pond near Lumberport.
“Since we're still in recovery mode and have barely begun the investigation, it would be premature to comment at this time,” MSHA spokesman Amy Louviere said.
Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said impoundment failures are rare.
“They're monitored routinely. They have lots of eyes looking at them,” he said.
Pennsylvania-based Consol was working to raise the elevation of the impoundment when the accident happened, vice president for safety Lou Barletta said. Once the worker is found, the company will determine what happened “so we can learn from it and prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future,” Barletta said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- As historic breakup nears, Alcoa works to redefine its ‘advantage’
- Older workers try to cut back on hours at job
- Program lets public service workers be forgiven for student debt
- Make green home upgrades pay off
- Batteries key to alternative energy’s success
- Western Pa. conference aims to connect veterans with businesses with contracting experts, specialists
- $170.4M AmEx charge yields whopping perk for Chinese billionaire
- Paying pals digitally catches on
- Take steps to make it harder for holiday hackers
- Travelers contend with increase in ground delays
- Asian bug threatens oranges in Florida