CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State investigators have already launched a full scale investigation into what could be the third slurry spill in recent years at Patriot Coal’s Kanawha Eagle prep plant near Winifrede in eastern Kanawha County.

Submitted photo

This photo of Fields Creek in eastern Kanawha County was taken on Wednesday.

The latest spill, which happened in the early morning hours on Tuesday, involved as much as 100,000 gallons of slurry — a waste product from coal production — that blackened Fields Creek, a tributary for the Kanawha River.

“It happened and we are doing everything that we can to, first of all, get the environment cleaned up as quickly as possible and, then, to investigate and take the appropriate measures with the company,” said Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on Wednesday.

Reports indicated the spill was reported to state officials before 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning, more than two hours after the line, running from the prep plant to a disposal site, was disconnected and the slurry flow stopped.

The flow into Fields Creek might have continued for several hours.

Early indications are the spill may have started with a broken valve.  Randy Huffman, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said an alarm system, designed to warn of equipment failures, was not working.

“The safeguards that were in place to prevent the mechanical failure from becoming something that has an environmental impact broke down and I’m not sure why yet,” said Huffman.

“As with any kind of a situation like this, there will be a series of violations issued and those violations typically include penalties so there will be violations and penalties.”  He said the investigation will require additional evaluations because of at least two previous spills at the site in 2010.

“We need to go look and see if there’s a pattern of these kinds of violations and that raises it to a different level within the enforcement program,” Huffman said on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

In a Tuesday statement, Patriot Coal said the following: “Mine personnel provided notification to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and all pumping related to the slurry line was promptly discontinued and the discharge ceased.  Containment activity began immediately at the site and is continuing in Fields Creek and is our top priority.”

The containment measures were implemented on Fields Creek.

Dale Petry, director of Kanawha County Emergency Services, confirmed some of that slurry did make it to the Kanawha River.

“It traveled down the river about 6/10 of a mile,” Petry said.  “I’m sure there’s been some particles that’s went on further down the river, but they could no longer be seen after approximately 6/10 of a mile.”

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  • Jim

    Was this another designed spill? It happens, DEP doesn't care.

  • Jeff

    Asinine?!? Well Ken, I'm sure Randy is a swell guy, but read the news once in a while. Suing the EPA to protect mountain top removal, fought against cleaning up mine pollution, secret deals with coal operators, kowtowing to the frackers, etc., I can go on! What do you think WVDEP stands for?? Any environmental "protection" the WVDEP performs is forced down by the courts. He's treasonous to the title he holds.

    • Aaron

      The EPA is out of line with current laws regarding Mountain Top Removal and the DEP did not sue, the state of WV did as well they should have given the facts.

      Mr. Huffman is required to uphold laws as they are written, not to write regulations meant to appease environmentalist. In my humble opinion, he is doing that despite the anecdotal comments of many on the left he claim otherwise.

      I don't suppose you have specific evidence of how Mr. Huffman is kowtowing or making secret deals, do you?

  • Ken Hackworth

    You, sir, evidently do not personally know Randy. I’m confident that if you did, you wouldn’t be making such an asinine comment. Along with his duties as DEP Secretary, Randy is an avid outdoorsman and currently serves our Country & State in the WV ANG. These are facts.

    • Aaron

      In the eyes of many, if you're not with us then you're against us. Most on the left believe government regulators should operate in a manner of Lisa Jackson when she ran the EPA. They believe officials should write regulations that adhere to their beliefs, not enforce the law.

      When officials do not interpret regulations as they see fit but instead enforce the regulations as they are written then many on the left claim said officials have been bought and paid for by industry.

      This incident at Freedom is the perfect example. They're asking why inspections were not conducted despite the fact that regulations did not call for annual inspections by any regulatory agency.

      Whether they should have or not is open to interpretation. If someone can show I a massive leak from a storage tank that had not been inspected prior to this incident, then they might have some foundation for their argument.

      But to expect government agencies to look into their crystal ball and see what might happen in the future and inspected accordingly, well in my opinion that's just ludicrous.

      • Ken Hackworth

        Well spoken, Aaron.

    • Harvey

      Ken, your comments regarding Col. Huffman's outdoor activities and service in the Air National Guard are well taken. The problem is, we are not discussing him as a fisherman or an aviator. He is just a really poor administrator of the Department of Environmental Protection, as recent events have again demonstrated. Those are the facts as most people see them, I suspect.

      • Aaron

        How do recent events demonstrate Mr. Huffman's ability as an administrator at the DEP?

        What could his agency have done to prevent the spill into the elk River by Freedom Industries?

        Can cite a similar occurrence that would have given regulatory agencies cause for concern?

        • Harvey

          It seems inappropriate for DEP to have no information on the coal-cleaning chemical leaked into Elk River when tens of thousands go gallons of the stuff have been discharged by prep plants operating under permits overseen by that agency. Regarding black water releases, the abysmal record of DEP speaks for itself. That being said, perhaps Mr. Huffman does his best in the paradigm where he operates. That is the root problem. The attitude of enforcement needs to change. I have seen this agency at work in the natural gas permitting and oversight side. It is shamefully pro industry and largely ineffective.

          • Aaron

            Every industry is required to file a Tier 2 report with public officials detailing every hazard on their property. That includes this chemical. It's not like no one knew that the chemical was not located in the tank.

            As for the release of coal slurry, that was not the subject of my post as there have been far too many coal slurry speels. The same cannot be said for spills at storage tank farms.

            There was "Kingsport incident" to raise concerns among government regulators regarding tank forms. As such, to claim that Mr. Huffman or any other government agencies were derelict in their duties regarding tank farms was false.

            Unfortunately, that has changed, requiring regulations to ensure that containment walls and tank farms are properly maintained.

      • Ken Hackworth

        Harvey, respectfully, there was no mention in Jeff's comment concerning his opinion of Randy's performance as DEP Secretary. Jeff got personal, and I can't abide his statements. I also disagree with your opinion concerning Randy's tenure. But, that is my opinion, also.

        • Harvey

          Ken, we are each entitled to our opinions of Randy's performance but we both agree that personal attacks on an otherwise fine fellow are not productive. Jeff was out of line.

    • Ken Hackworth

      My comment was directed toward "Jeff".

  • tw eagle

    sounds familiar , if you can't see , it probably won't hurt you (DUH) . . .

    third time for this type of environmentally dangerous exposure at this same site . . .

    no more chances , make this company quit the state of West Virginia . . . another company will provide these needed services for the coal industry . . . do it well , or BE GONE . . .

  • Jeff

    There is a special place for Randy Huffman. Enemy to the state, the people, and the environment.

  • Herder

    The is pollution from a coal company, so as typical in WV nothing was done improperly by the coal company.

  • Gary Karstens

    6/10 of a mile...........GOOD GRIEF! Clean it up!