Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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April 25, 2013

Feds questioning construction of W.Va. slurry dams

(Continued)

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection didn't immediately comment.

Regulators should also impose a moratorium on the expansion of existing impoundments, Goodwin said, especially the Brushy Fork dam built by the former Massey Energy Co. near Whitesville.

Federal regulators recently approved plans by the current owner, Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources, to expand what is already one of the nation's biggest coal slurry impoundments to a height taller than the Hoover Dam. The plan would increase the volume of waste to 8.5 billion gallons.

"Citizens have worried about construction methods and impoundment stability for more than a decade," Goodwin said, "yet state and federal agencies have insisted they're safe and meet legal requirements."

The problem, he said, is those determinations rely on the companies to provide "honest and accurate data."

Neighbors worry about Brushy Fork because the engineer long responsible for the impoundment was also involved in illegal ventilation plans at Massey's Upper Big Branch mine, where an April 2010 explosion killed 29 men.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration later discovered Massey maintained two sets of safety records, one sanitized to mislead inspectors.

The engineering firm Massey used on Brushy Fork was also linked to the 2000 failure of a Massey impoundment in Martin County, Ky. Slurry burst through the bottom of a 68-acre holding pond, sending black goo through an underground mine and into 100 miles of waterways.

That spill polluted the water supply of more than a dozen communities and killed aquatic life before reaching the Ohio River.

Slurry is the soupy waste created when coal is washed to help it burn more cleanly.

In central Appalachia, companies use impoundments to dispose of "coarse refuse," or larger pieces of rock separated from coal, and "fine refuse," or clay, silt and sand-size particles. Fine refuse is pumped into the reservoir behind the coarse refuse. Over time, the "fines" are supposed to settle to the bottom, compressing and solidifying.

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