According to a report released Thursday by federal officials, West Virginia regulators are not making enough changes to ensure coal slurry ponds don’t fail from the bottom and flood underground mines.
In the report, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement pointed out that the state Department of Environmental Protection has been making some improvements, but still more needs to be done.
The report comes from a four year examination of practices at the DEP and outlines at least eight areas where improvements could be made.
One of those areas involved current mine maps not being adequate enough to judge where mining had taken place near impoundments, yet DEP and coal operators did not fully investigate the extent of that mining.
However, the West Virginia Coal Association disagrees with the OSM’s findings and believe that continuous progress has been made by the regulatory agencies and the coal industry to improve the design and operation of coal refuse impoundments across the state.
The WVCA said these coal refuse impoundments are some of the most highly engineered and regulated structures found anywhere in the world.
In their statement released Thursday, the WVCA mentions how it is disappointed with OSM’s actions with respect to the current review and feel that much of the review was conducted behind closed doors with little to no dialogue or communication with the regulated community or the individual operating companies.
Their statement continued by saying that “over the course of this 12 year review, the industry has responded to previous issues in a prompt and professional manner when provided with an opportunity for an open dialogue with OSM, but that opportunity was not provided in this situation,” said the WVCA. ”The agency never requested any information from the industry that may have satisfied their concerns nor did they contact the industry to make them aware of the pending release of these reports.”
This is the third report conducted on West Virginia impoundments.
In West Virginia, a massive failure has not occurred since 1972.
Reviews by OSM began after a massive dam in Martin County, Ky., failed in October 2000 releasing 300 million gallons of slurry into area streams.
OSM has mentioned plans to conduct similar studies in six other states: Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia.