Surface mining office launches prevention program after coal slurry spill

Nov. 7, 2000
Federal regulators plan to examine coal slurry impoundment concerns throughout the Appalachian region to avoid future spills after 250 million gallons of coal slurry laid waste to miles of river life in Kentucky.

Nov. 3, 2000— Federal regulators plan to examine coal slurry impoundment concerns throughout the Appalachian region to avoid future spills after 250 million gallons of coal slurry laid waste to miles of river life in Kentucky.

The Oct. 11 spill happened when a barrier in a Martin County Coal retention pond gave way, causing 250 million gallons to seep into an abandoned underground coal mine. The mine was not completely sealed, so the molasses-like coal slurry continued to escape into nearby rivers and neighborhoods. All aquatic life was killed in sections of the Tug Fork and Big Sandy, on which towns downstream depend for drinking water. Officials have said the spill could take at least five months to clean up.

The program will take another look at the rules on containment and storage of coal slurry throughout the Appalachian Region, where there is a nearby underground mine, said Kathrine L. Henry, Acting Director of the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

OSM and the states will begin the evaluation immediately and will address the full extent of impoundment issues, including: assuring that state program requirements for impoundments over underground mine works are being effectively implemented; assuring maintenance of an inventory of existing permitted impoundments, and the identification of those known to be within 500 feet of underground mines; assessment of the potential threat and impact on downstream life, property, and environment of an impoundment breakthrough that would result in an underground mine discharge to the surface; and assessment of technical procedures used to approve surface mining activities within 500 feet of underground mine works.

As planned reviews are concluded, OSM, working with the states and MSHA, will consider whether existing regulations and engineering practices may need revision to ensure protection of public health, safety, and the environment.

OSM and the states will start the evaluation right away and will try to answer questions including: assuring that state program requirements for impoundments over underground mine works are being effectively implemented; assuring maintenance of an inventory of existing permitted impoundments, and the identification of those known to be within 500 feet of underground mines; assessment of the potential threat and impact on downstream life, property, and environment of an impoundment breakthrough that would result in an underground mine discharge to the surface; and assessment of technical procedures used to approve surface mining activities within 500 feet of underground mine works.

As planned reviews are concluded, OSM, working with the states and MSHA, will consider whether existing regulations and engineering practices may need revision to ensure protection of public health, safety, and the environment.

The Appalachian region has seen four major occurrences of coal slurry breakthroughs since 1996, three in Virginia, and the latest in Martin County, Kentucky.

For more information on the planned activities, visit OSM's web site at www.osmre.gov/news.