Coal Tattoo

Seeking slurry answers … and missing deadlines

Vicki Smith from The Associated Press has long weekend story about coal slurry, exposing the failure of the state Department of Environmental Protection to figure out whether underground injection of this coal-cleaning waste product is getting into drinking water supplies and making people sick.

DEP Secretary Randy Huffman bluntly told Smith that his agency simply doesn’t have the answers that coalfield residents and lawmakers are demanding:

We have some concerns, to be quite honest with you. We have questions we’re trying to get some answers to, to make sure it’s safe.

Smith reports:

The DEP cannot say precisely what’s in that waste, how much is injected annually, or whether and where it migrates.

But incredibly, she goes on:

…coal operators are still permitted to inject slurry at 15 locations.

The Gazette posted this story online Saturday, and I’ve also added it to our Mining the Mountains special section.

The AP’s Smith had a story a few days about about a lawsuit filed over alleged slurry contamination of the water supply in the Prenter area, and Erica Peterson over at West Virginia Public Broadcasting did this story (listen to it here) in January about a similar lawsuit in Mingo County, which is set for trial later this month.

There’s a bunch of interesting information about coal slurry issues available from the Sludge Safety Project.

Interestingly, one of the expert witnesses for the citizens in the Mingo County case (against Massey Energy) is Scott Simonton, a Marshall University professor who also serves on the state Environmental Quality Board.

AP’s Smith quoted Simonton in her weekend story, explaining what could be happening when this slurry is injected into abandoned underground mines:

“An abandoned mine is not a sealed tube. You can’t put something in there and assume it’s going to stay. As soon as you put it in there, it starts to move.”

Jason Bostic, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, assures us that underground injection of slurry must be safe. “Otherwise, it would not be approved by the federal EPA and the DEP.”