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Explosives await removal from Fayette coal waste dump

| Friday, May 31, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Explosive charges buried in a Fayette County coal waste dump may stay there for more than a month, even though state officials initially wanted them removed by May 8.

Seismic testing workers at a subsidiary of CGGVeritas have until July 8 to remove 130 charges they planted into one of the region's largest gob piles, under an extension the Department of Environmental Protection granted so that the company can devise a removal plan that federal regulators will approve, the DEP order says.

The company, Houston-based CGGVeritas Land (U.S.) Inc., is fighting the state, denying that it operated outside its blasting permit by working at the dump in LaBelle. It appealed to the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board, claiming it told DEP officials it would work on the site and that it followed special criteria to allow that.

Attorneys won't submit briefs until December, but a DEP spokesman said removal could happen in the meantime.

“The company's appeal deals with procedures and penalty, and would not affect the removal of the seismic charges at LaBelle,” regional spokesman John Poister said. “There is no danger to the public.”

About 25 people living near the site in Luzerne Township signed a petition by the Environmental Integrity Project that asks for a public hearing on the issue. Noting a record of environmental violations and problems at the site, they want details about where the charges are located, how workers will remove them and whether hazards exist, according to the petition.

“We are fearful that if charges are detonated, they may cause harm to ourselves or our property,” the petition says. “We were not notified of planned activities prior to explosives placement and are skeptical that we would be warned by CGGVeritas Land (U.S.) of potentially hazardous activity in the future.”

Chevron Corp. hired CGGVeritas to do seismic surveying for gas reserves in parts of Fayette and Washington counties. One contractor coordinated work with the site owner, Matt Canestrale Contracting Inc., CGGVeritas' lawyer said in its appeal.

CGGVeritas used 24-hour security, digital caps and buried wires to keep the site safe, it said in response to the DEP's stop-work order.

“The order (is) arbitrary, capricious, contrary to law, not supported by evidence, an improper exercise of authority, an exercise of unreasonable judgment (and) a misapplication of law,” Philadelphia attorney Seth v.d.H. Cooley wrote.

Timothy Puko is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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