Coal River Mountain update

Dec 13, 2010

It's been awhile since we've given an update on the status of Coal River Mountain. Massey Energy's subsidiary, Marfork Coal Company, has 2 approved mining permits (Bee Tree and Eagle 2) and 2 pending permits on Coal River Mountain. In total these permits cover nearly 5400 acres of the mountain. Mining has already started within the Bee Tree permit boundaries. Because Massey does not have valley fill permits for Coal River Mountain (they applied for a valley fill permit for the Bee Tree site in 2006, but this permit has not been granted), they are moving forward with highwall mining (following the contours of the mountain while removing the earth above the coal seam - see this photo of highwall mining).

In the past year Marfork has destroyed about 75 acres of Coal River Mountain on the 1090 acre Bee Tree Permit. Just in the past few months a 1/4 mile long and 200 foot deep road cut as been constructed through the the mountain a the back of the Brushy Fork Impoundment. This road, known as External Haul Road 8, is key to minimizing the hauling distance to truck fill from several locations on the permit to back fill the high walls of an old highwall mine elsewhere on the mountain, near the Brushy Fork Slurry Impoundment. With this strategy of moving rubble from active mining operations to fill in past operations, they will still be able to disturb a significant portion of the mountain. Within the next 6 months, it is likely that Massey will move on to a new site within the Bee Tree permit.

Blasting occurs daily on the Bee Tree site near the Brushy Fork Slurry Impoundment (a huge pond, held back by an earthen dam, containing the slurry residue from coal washing). This blasting may be cracking the less than 200 feet of inter-burden between the 6 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry in the impoundment and unstable underground mines below. This has the potential to allow slurry to migrate from the pond and contaminate surrounding streams ground water, and also affects the stability of the dam itself. Blasting is occurring just 1000 feet from the weakest coal pillars directly under the pond. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has so far failed to recognize concerns for dam stability and place any restrictions on blasting. However, they did penalize Massey for excessive blasting too close to natural gas pipelines on the mountain - and fined them a grand total of $298. Coal River Mountain Watch is keeping up the pressure on the DEP to regulate blasting near the impoundment.

Last January activists with Climate Ground Zero and Mountain Justice stopped blasting on the Bee Tree permit for 10 days as they occupied trees on the edge of External Haul Road 8.

No activity has begun on the Eagle No. 2 surface mine that is permitted to perform mountaintop removal on the summit of Coal River Mountain. Citizens fear that when this permit becomes active, several thousand more acres of Coal River Mountain will be blocked off to those that have used the Mountain for generations to recreate, hunt, ginseng, and gather mushrooms. A significant portion of the high elevations of the mountain will be destroyed.

No valley fill permit applications have been spotted for the Eagle No. 2 Surface Mine, but the amount of mining that can be done without these permits is at this point unknown. There is the possibility of using fill from the Eagle 2 site to backfill several miles of old high wall mines and to backfill another coal slurry impoundment, the Collins Fork Impoundment.

Coal River Mountain Watch is keeping up the pressure on the DEP to regulate blasting near the impoundment and not to allow for any "variances" in the permits on Coal River Mountain (coal companies typically apply for - and receive - "variances" or exemptions from certain mining regulations, especially regulations against mining within 100 feet of a stream or requiring companies to save topsoil to use in reclamation). We are also keeping pressure on the EPA to ban valley fill permits.

The third major mountaintop removal permit for Coal River Mountain is the Leather Leaf permit encompassing 1,200 acres; this permit was applied for last January but it has not moved forwarded in the application process after the DEP requested more information from the company. This permit has yet to go through its public comment period. Halting approval of this permit would leave a significant portion of Coal River Mountain's wind potential intact. CRMW will be organizing people to comment on this permit as soon as the opportunity arises.