Coal Tattoo

Probe begins at CONSOL slurry impoundment

UPDATED, 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, with audio of CONSOL’s briefing earlier in the afternoon:

These photos, provided by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, show CONSOL Energy’s Nolan Run slurry impoundment near Lumberport in Harrison County, before and after the massive collapse of a coal-waste embankment/platform that has left a United Mine Workers member unaccounted for since Friday afternoon.

The photos weren’t taken from exactly the same angle, but the platform in question — being built by CONSOL as part of a plan to expand the site to continuing taking more coal-waste from its Robinson Run Mine — is shown in gray in the left-hand side of the top photo. Then, in the bottom photos in the bottom left corner, you can see the remains of that platform, with the “c” that’s carved out of it indicating the extent of the failure.

Here’s the full text of the latest update from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, provided early Tuesday evening:

Procedures have been put in place to begin moving barges out to the recovery location.

Dredging will continue from the shoreline for 50 feet to facilitate the movement of the barges to the work location.

A 25-foot buffer zone will be established from the shore, which will be illuminated. Anyone in this buffer zone will be required to have a spotter and be wearing a life jacket.

A certified marine surveyor will confirm the loads of the barges and the barge platform.

Barge platforms of various sizes will be moved to the recovery site. Multiple small boats will be used to maneuver the barges to the recovery site.

The recovery site will be anchored by 50-foot pipes installed in the slurry.

Life jackets will be worn by everyone on the floating barges and the platform.

Production has not yet resumed at the mine.

Informal interviews were conducted today as the investigation gets underway.

This construction was being done by CONSOL in the standard way most coal operators do this — they were bumping coal refuse on top of coal refuse to raise the embankment, a process that is becoming more and more controversial, with citizen groups raising questions about the safety and wisdom of doing it this way. The safety of the practice, experts say, depends on how solid — or how liquid — the material on the bottom is. We’ll get to hear a bit from CONSOL about this tomorrow. The company has scheduled what it calls a “technical background briefing” tomorrow with company vice president for safety Lou Barletta. The briefing, I’m told, will last only 15 minutes. News reporters will not be allowed to ask questions.

Here are two more photos, courtesy of WVDEP: