Be wary of toxin-laced slurry
Radmacher is communications director for Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
In his commentary, Thomas Hudson attempts to minimize concerns about the use of mine voids to store mining waste by making it sound as if the main waste to be stored would be “briny water” temporarily pumped from active mines.
Such water, he assures, would be stored only in mining voids below sea level and come only from the “very few” active mines in Virginia that are below sea level. The law does not restrict waste storage to such situations, and I have no idea why Hudson is attempting to paint this as the primary scenario.
In fact, what concerns most landowners and nearby residents is not “briny water,” but mining waste water — the water used to wash non-combustible byproducts from the coal before it’s shipped for further processing. That water isn’t just briny; it’s full of toxins and chemicals released during the coal mining.
When this wastewater, called slurry, is injected into old mines, it can leak into nearby aquifers, contaminating wells.
For instance, two recent studies by environmental consultant Yoram Eckstein found a “clear hydrochemical pathway” between slurry injection sites and water wells in the Prenter Hollow area in West Virginia.
Prenter Hollow residents had long complained that the contamination was causing problems with their water and issues with their health. Six residents in a neighborhood with only 10 homes ended up with brain tumors. Four of them died.
While those tumors haven’t been definitively linked to the slurry contamination, the recent studies conclusively demonstrated the link between slurry injection sites and contaminated water in the wells.
In 2011, Massey Energy settled another slurry contamination case for $35 million.
The concerns about using mining voids to store wastewater are not about “briny water,” nor are they “overblown.”
Anti-coal bias distorts bill’s intent
Hudson is president of the Virginia Coal Association.
The use of the old bromide about landowners getting the shaft clearly illustrates the anti-coal bias of the author of the op-ed opposing HB 710. So, too, does his focus on only one potential, rare use of mine voids, while ignoring the other uses of mine voids necessary for the continued mining of coal, the thousands of Virginia jobs created by such mining and the cheap electricity generated by such coal that benefits millions of Virginians.
The major import of the bill is to allow the use of mine voids for the passage of supplies, workers, electricity, water and ventilation to mine coal without the unnecessary burden of drilling a separate shaft on each parcel of land. Opponents ignore this and focus exclusively on the storage of water.
A murky reading of HB 710 is employed to raise straw issues. “Reasonable” is not in the eye of the beholder, but to be determined by a court in the case of dispute. There is nothing new about this approach. Does the author really think the coal company as owner must get its own consent? Or would he have these rights curtailed? Do landowners who buy land where the titles to minerals thereon have been severed previously by deed actually have mineral rights?
Focusing on only one aspect of a multi-faceted issue is overly simplistic. The legislature understood this. It focused on all the issues and adopted legislation that preserved the rights of the coal operator to use the voids in furtherance of mining, in accord with all state and federal regulations, while requiring landowners’ consent for the use of voids that they owned, reasonable compensation and recourse to courts to determine the reasonableness of such compensation and for redress of any damages. HB 710 is a good, fair law for all parties.