-MAIN-MENU-
Home
Email
Links
Search
Kentucky Resources Council, PO Box 1070, Frankfort, KY 40602 Phone [502] 875-2428

-MAIN-MENU-
Join Us
Photo/Audio
About KRC
PO Box 1070, Frankfort, KY 40602  Phone 502.875.2428, Fax 502.875.2845

THE FAILURE OF MSHA'S MANAGEMENT  Posted: October 20, 2001

PAPERING OVER THE PROBLEMS: THE FAILURE OF MSHA'S MANAGEMENT TO FULLY ACCOUNT FOR THE CAUSES OF THE MARTIN COUNTY COAL CO. SLURRY RELEASE1

The long-awaited MSHA Report of Investigation into the Martin County Coal Co. October 11, 2000 slurry impoundment failure was released on October 17, 2001. The impoundment failure, according to MSHA, resulted in the release of 300 million gallons of slurried material affecting over 100 miles of public waterways.

The report, at 33 pages in length with appendices, concludes that the failure of the Big Branch Refuse Impoundment and the subsequent inundation of the 1-C mine occurred because Martin County Coal Corporation (hereafter MCCC) failed to follow its approved Impoundment Sealing Plan, dated August 8, 1994, and subsequent plan modification dated September 7, 1995. 2

According to the report, it was the failure of MCCC to fully comply with the impoundment sealing plan that resulted in internal erosion (piping) of the material between the impoundment and the mine workings[,] leading to the uncontrolled discharge of slurry into the mine. The MSHA Report studiously avoids any self-reflection or internal examination of the performance of MSHA personnel in the review, approval and monitoring of the impoundment site suitability, design, construction and performance, and in the review and approval of the 1994 sealing plan.

While a more in-depth analysis of the MSHA Report will follow after access is gained to the interviews and other materials that MSHA has refused to release due to the pendency of this report, there are several significant and apparent shortcomings in the conclusions drawn by MSHA Management from the technical data.3 Those shortcomings are highlighted below.

MSHA Management Misrepresent The Critical Role Of The Inadequate Barrier In The Failure of the Impoundment

In Department of Labor News Release 01-364, issued on October 17 to accompany the release of the report, MSHA management has represented that the investigators found that the 27-foot distance between the bottom of the impoundment and the underlying mine was itself not considered a factor in the accident, and there was no conclusive evidence that mine maps were wrong[.]

A reading of the text and maps contained in both the MSHA Report of Investigation, and in the TRIAD Report on which the MSHA Report based its technical conclusions, reflects clearly that the mere 27-foot distance between the existing ground surface and the underlying mine workings was a key factor in the release, and that, a comparative review of the maps submitted by MCCC and the physical drilling data, provides substantial and compelling physical evidence of a material discrepancy between the represented condition of the coal barrier and the conditions found. The TRIAD Engineering Report and the MSHA findings underscore that this discrepancy was central to the failure of the impoundment.

A. A Material Discrepancy Did Exist Between MCCC Representations And Conditions Actually Found Relative To The Extent Of Coal Barrier

Contrary to the statement attributed to unnamed investigators in the MSHA press release, the TRIAD and MSHA Reports reflect a material discrepancy between the extent of unmined coal barrier represented in the 1994 MCCC Impoundment Sealing Plan and the actual coal barrier that existed in the area of the breakthrough.

As noted by TRIAD, the August 8, 1994 plan view drawing submitted by MCCC as part of the impoundment sealing plan indicated a minimum scaled distance of approximately 70 feet between the end of Entry No. 1 and the outcrop of the coal seam, defined as the point at which the top of the seam meets the unconsolidated material. (See Figure 13, MSHA Report).

The TRIAD Report, accepted by MSHA in its report, indicated on the basis of drilling data, that the actual coal barrier at the end of Entry No. 1, measured in the same manner as the 70-foot section that was represented to exist, was 15-18 feet, and might have been less (given that borehole data from other areas indicated that entries were driven further than indicated on the map).

The drawing of the Typical Seepage Barrier Section submitted on behalf of MCCC as Sheet 3 of 3 for the Impoundment Sealing Plan, Big Branch Slurry Impoundment and dated 8/8/94 as revised 10-13-94, Figure 29 in the MSHA Report, represents the typical seepage barrier section as having a solid coal barrier of Coalburg coal seam of 100 feet beyond the limits of the mining, measured from where the top of the seam meets unconsolidated material. That same drawing represents as a typical condition the extension of the Coalburg seam horizontally to the original ground surface within the Big Branch watershed.

It is difficult to reconcile the assertion by the press release that investigators didn t find a discrepancy between the mine maps and the site conditions, with this evidence and with TRIAD s conclusion that:

The August 8, 1994 plan view drawing submitted by Martin County Coal as part of the impoundment sealing plan indicated that a minimum scaled distance of approximately 70 ft. (as measured perpendicular to the Coalburg outcrop) existed between the end of Entry No. 1 and the Coalburg outcrop line. The test borings indicate that the net distance between the end

of Entry No. 1 as depicted on Martin County Coal maps and

the actual coal seam outcrop (point at which the top of the

coal seam meets unconsolidated material) was on the order

of 15 to 18 ft. Considering that some entries were found to

extend beyond the depicted limits of mining in other nearby

locations of the mine, the actual coal barrier at the end of

Entry No. 1 may have been less than 15 ft.

As Figure 13 of the MSHA Report reflects, the MCCC map represented the Coalburg seam outcrop to extend some 70 feet beyond the furthest extent of mining. The TRIAD data shows that some 35 feet beyond the mining limit, the Coalburg seam ended, and that the full thickness of the seam extended for only 15-18 feet beyond the limits of mining.

A discrepancy is reflected between the submitted data and the field data, contradicting the agency representation to the contrary. That the discrepancy between the represented barrier width and composition and the real site conditions was material to the impoundment failure is likewise documented in the reports, contrary to the MSHA press statement.

B. The Presence Of Only 27 Feet Of Barrier Between

The Impoundment And The Mined Seam, And The

Composition Of That Barrier, Were Critical To The

Failure, According To The Data

MSHA s management errs in representing, in the October 17, 2001 Press Release, that investigators determined that the presence of a 27-foot barrier between the impoundment and the mined seam was not considered a factor in the accident.

In truth, both TRIAD and the text of the MSHA technical report indicate otherwise. The TRIAD Report, based on 47 test borings drilled in the slurry impoundment, concluded that:

The impoundment failure is a consequence of mining

operations in the Coalburg Coal (sic) advancing in close

proximity to the outcrop of the coal seam. The August 8, 1994

plan view drawing submitted by Martin County Coal as

part of the impoundment sealing plan indicated that a minimum

scaled distance of approximately 70 ft. (as measured perpendicular to the Coalburg outcrop) existed between the

end of Entry No. 1 and the Coalburg outcrop line. The test

borings indicate that the net distance between the end

of Entry No. 1 as depicted on Martin County Coal maps and

the actual coal seam outcrop (point at which the top of the

coal seam meets unconsolidated material) was on the order

of 15 to 18 ft. Considering that some entries were found to

extend beyond the depicted limits of mining in other nearby

locations of the mine, the actual coal barrier at the end of

Entry No. 1 may have been less than 15 ft.

(Italics added).

The TRIAD Report concluded that:

This minimal thickness of solid coal barrier combined with the

continually increasing hydrostatic pressure as a result of the

rising slurry level resulted in piping/erosion of the barrier

and eventual breakthrough of slurry into the mine workings.

(Italics added).

TRIAD thus clearly finds that the minimal thickness of the solid coal barrier, coupled with the increasing pressure from the rising slurry level, resulted in piping resulting in eventual breakthrough.

The technical findings of the MSHA Report accept the TRIAD data and similarly acknowledge the inadequacy of a competent barrier as a factor in the failure. On Page 27, the MSHA Report notes that:

At the end of the 50-foot long entry, the amount of solid

rock overburden was pinching out quickly and the width of

full-seam solid coal barrier remaining was on the order of

15 to 18 feet. Internal erosion of material could have initiated

either from a portion of the thin coal barrier or the roof

rock near the face, unraveling or sloughing under the constant

seepage forces and the increasing vertical stress.

Thus, according to this finding, the lack of competence of the coal barrier and roof rock was material to the failure mechanism (i.e. piping).

Similarly, on Page 29, Findings 5 and 7 speak directly to the lack of competent barrier. Item 5 noted that, contrary to the typical seepage barrier section represented by MCCC in 1994, [d]rilling revealed that the Coalburg coal seam did not extend horizontally to the surface in the area of the breakthrough. For a distance of approximately 40 feet back into the hillside, the material was natural soil at the coal seam elevation.

Finding #7 likewise took note of the width and the composition of the barrier actually found at the site:

Subsequent drill holes in the area of the breakthrough

indicate the minimum overburden thickness was 27

feet (measured diagonally). Of that distance, 10 feet was

weathered and jointed sandstone with the remaining

material being sandy soil. The amount of full-seam

solid coal remaining was 15 to 18 feet.

While the MSHA Press Release and Report Conclusion lays the blame on the failure to construct seals and to lay down a layer of fine refuse as the impoundment was filled, the evidence, and the findings of the TRIAD Report as endorsed in the findings of the MSHA Report, outline clearly that there was a material discrepancy between the width and composition of the barrier at the area of the breakthrough, and what was represented to be the condition in the filing by MCCC.4

CONCLUSIONS

While the findings of the MSHA Report and the TRIAD data and analysis demonstrate that the lack of adequate competent barrier was the likely cause of the impoundment failure, the MSHA conclusion focuses the blame for the impoundment failure entirely on the failure to implement two aspects of the 1994 impoundment sealing plan involving the seals and the seepage barrier.

MSHA notes that the reinforced seals called for in the 1994 plan may not have been constructed as proposed and approved, yet notes elsewhere that with the amount of hydraulic pressure exerted on the seals that were constructed (and were represented to be equivalent to those approved), the approved design would have in any event proven inadequate to withstand the force of the release.

The other aspect of the 1994 plan which MSHA criticizes is the failure of the company to have maintained a layer of fine refuse as the impoundment elevation increased above the Coalburg seam elevation. MSHA noted that the barrier failed to plug the opening, as it was supposed to, because either the opening was larger than had been anticipated and/or the barrier material ended up being finer than anticipated, raising the obvious question of whether, given the absence of sufficient competent barrier, the spreading of fine refuse would have made any difference if the opening was larger than had been anticipated[.]

MSHA avoids addressing the most obvious conclusions to be drawn from the investigation report and TRIAD reports, in all probability because the result of facing the facts in this case will demand a departure from business as usual and will be more costly for companies seeking to use impoundments for coal waste disposal.

* The evidence suggests that the root cause of the failure was not the failure to follow the 1994 plan, but instead the failure, in 1985 when the impoundment was first approved and again in 1994, after the first breakthrough had occurred, to require the operator to fully characterize the actual geologic conditions within the proposed impoundment basin. The failure to have required geotechnical exploration to determine the specific geologic conditions at the 1994 breakthrough and elsewhere around the outcrop at the elevation of the Coalburg seam may have led, MSHA notes, to the erroneous assumption that an opening of the size that developed (60 square feet) would not occur. The strata overlying the Coalburg seam was represented as primarily sandstone with some shale when in fact there was only weathered and jointed sandstone with soil in the area of the breakthrough.

The inescapable conclusion to be drawn is that mine operators should be required to drill boreholes to determine the extent of mining around the perimeter of the impoundment basin in all cases where mineable reserves may exist in proximity to or beneath the footprint of the proposed impoundment. The agency should require operators to conduct complete geotechnical investigations in the basin for proposed coal impoundments in any basin where there is the possibility of prior underground mining.

* The MSHA Inventory of Coal Waste Impoundments, which categorized impoundments based solely on maps supplied by companies and by visual observation, should be validated by requiring for all existing impoundments that operators either provide existing drill logs and other geophysical data or to conduct sufficient drilling to document the actual extent of past mining activities within the impoundment basin and adjacent areas.

* Further investigation and appropriate civil or criminal enforcement action should be taken with respect to the material and apparently inaccurate representations in the MCCC filing with respect to the conditions relative to the coalburg coal seam and the impoundment, including the horizontal extent of remaining coal barrier, the location of the coal outcrop relative to the impoundment, and the composition of the overlying strata above the Coalburg seam. The information was inaccurate, and it should be determined whether the information provided and certified was misrepresented knowingly or innocently. Under a system that has historically relied on the representations of applicants concerning such material matters, strict accountability for misrepresentations must be imposed, particularly where catastrophic consequences flowing from errors in those representations.

Additionally, the accuracy of representations made through certifications that the construction was consistent with the approved plans should be reviewed to determine whether any enforcement action or referral is appropriate. Section 110(f) of the Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969 authorizes the imposition of criminal penalties of up to five (5) years in prison and up to $10,000 on conviction for the making of any false statement, representation or certification in any application, record, report, plan, or other document filed or required to be maintained pursuant to this Act[.]

A thorough investigation would have addressed whether a violation of Section 110(f), or of the federal False Claims Act, might exist with respect to information contained in filings with the agency.

* The manner in which MSHA reviewed the plans for the impoundment, and the 1994 impoundment sealing plan, and the manner in which the facility was inspected should be thoroughly assessed. The facility was inspected by MSHA at least twice a year each year since 1994, yet no citations were issued for discrepancies in the implementation of approved plans.

* In November 2000, the Council outlined a series of reforms needed in the regulation of coal waste disposal. Subsequent events have ratified the need for these reforms, and in the aftermath of the anemic NAS Study and the MSHA Report, the Council reaffirms that these steps should be taken:

A. MSHA and the state regulatory authorities under the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act should impose a moratorium on further issuance of permit approvals or revisions authorizing new or increased size of embankment-design coal waste impoundments, and implement both procedural and substantive technical review changes to address the company and regulatory agency failures resulting in catastrophic releases from coal waste impoundments.

Among those changes that need to be implemented:

1. Clarify permit forms to demand more accurate site-specific characterization of the proposed impoundment basin area. Revise forms and procedures to assure that coal waste disposal permits ask clearly and specifically the identity and location of all known underground workings. At least twice in the history of the permitting of this impoundment, the applications indicated that no underground mine workings existed beneath the permit area.

2. Where there are recoverable seams of coal located adjacent to the impoundment pool or beneath the pool or foundation, DSMRE and MSHA should require core drilling to be advanced to below the depth of any merchantable seams to assure that the extent of prior underground workings is identified in the foundation and pool area and adjacent areas.5

3. No new embankment coal slurry impoundments of high or moderate risk classification should be constructed. Embankment impoundments should be limited to locations where the impoundment is classified at the lowest hazard classification for both embankment breach and other failure mechanisms (such as subsidence and earthquake hazard), and only where they do not impound or fill waters of the United States.

4. An alternatives analysis should be required prior to approval

of any coal waste impoundment,6 and no impoundment should be approved over or within the area of potential influence or failure of underground mine works.

5. For any high or moderate hazard situation, require that alternative technology be employed to manage and dispose of the coal fines, such as compacted dry coal refuse banks, wet or pneumatic backstowing, incised ponds, or other safer technologies. Underground injection of coal slurry should be explored as an option for coal waste disposal only where appropriate and after coordination with USEPA Region IV and MSHA to assure that there are no adverse effects to public or miner safety and that underground sources of drinking water. Use of controlled backstowing for waste disposal and subsidence control should be evaluated in mine designs.

6. Any coal waste impoundment should be required to be bonded or insured at the full cost of reclamation, based on the worst-case analysis of catastrophic failure of the impoundment. Assessing the true impact of the failure of the impoundment, and requiring bonding at that level, creates accountability for the potential environmental and public consequences and better reflects the full cost of the disposal method.

7. Existing regulatory authority possessed by both MSHA and the state regulatory agency under SMCRA should be employed to improve review and control of these structures. While the NAS study let the agencies off the hook by calling for new regulations,7 existing regulations provide ample authority to vastly improve permit review. Among those obligations that can be imposed under existing regulation:

* A full multi-path analysis of the mechanisms and risks of failure of the impoundment structure and pool into underground workings from seismic events, outcrop barrier failure, subsidence, and other mechanisms, based on actual data.

* The existing requirement to conduct a probable hydrologic consequences determination and cumulative hydrologic impact analysis should be properly implemented in order to demand information and analysis of the impacts of impoundment failure. In the case of the MCCC release, such information was never provided or demanded even though such a failure had already occurred on a lesser scale in 1994 and the state permit reviewer had specifically asked that the applicant address the risks and effects of another breakthrough.

For all existing coal waste embankment impoundments, mid-term reviews of the state mining permits should be conducted promptly and the probable hydrologic consequences determination and hazards assessment should be required to be resubmitted to consider the worst-case failure scenarios, and to require reduction of hazards, alternative management approaches, and revised bonding sufficient to fully fund reclamation and repair of all damages under the worst-case failure scenario.

B. The roles of the state and federal agencies in reviewing and approving placement of coal refuse material should be clarified and both coordination and technical review should be strengthened in order to assure protection of the public, of miners on the minesite, and of the environment.

The continued lack of coordination in information-sharing among the agencies is also of concern. The existence of the MSHA study of coal refuse impoundments, which ranked the impoundments by hazard classification associated with underground mining, appears to have been unknown to the state surface mining agency until after the news articles appeared.

It appears that, despite the waste dam failures at Ages, Kentucky in 1981, and in Virginia in the 1990 s, that adequate coordination in technical review and alternatives analysis is still not being undertaken.

C. Existing impoundments should be reviewed utilizing site-specific drilling and other geophysical data, and closure of the impoundments required where there is any potential for catastrophic failure due to dam breach or pool breakthrough due to subsidence, outcrop failure or earthquake.

D. All pending enforcement actions should be vigorously pursued and penalties imposed sufficient to compensate the public for response and natural resource damage costs and to remove any economic benefit derived from the failure to accurately characterize the relationship of the Coalburg seam and mining to the Big Branch watershed.

E. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should enforce the Clean Water Act and its own regulations to prohibit the placement of coal waste in in-stream impoundments such as this structure.

F. The proposed EPA-Corps of Engineers rulemaking that would legitimize further construction of in-stream coal waste impoundments by removing the Corps regulatory prohibition against such waste disposal, should be scrapped.

G. The general Assembly should eliminate the no more stringent than shackle that ties Kentucky to the bottom rung of the ladder of environmental and public protection, and forces our agency to follow rather than lead in the area of public protection from risks associated with coal waste disposal. Our public policy should not be doing the bare minimum, but doing what is right for the public and our environment.

H. Martin County Coal Corporation should accept legal responsibility for its actions and establish a prompt and fair process for compensating individuals, businesses and communities injured by its actions.

I. It is important to maintain a clear delineation of responsibility and accountability. Contrary to the NAS Report conclusion, the responsibility for safe location, operation, maintenance and closure of any impoundment is not a shared responsibility it is a moral responsibility and legal liability that rests squarely on the owner and operator of that impoundment and those who design, construct and operate it. The role of government is to demand accountability throughout the process for industry compliance with and violations of safety and environmental laws. While the failures of state and federal regulators in the area of oversight of coal waste management and disposal are numerous, fundamental and serial, the responsibility and accountability for proper management of mine wastes rests with the company officials, their engineers and other agents regardless of the performance of those agencies.

As voters, as citizens, as consumers, the public has an obligation to demand better accountability from the industry, and from government. Silence in the face of the ongoing failure to require the coal industry to accept responsibility for its actions and to choose the high rather than the low road in how it affects our environment and coalfield communities, is complicity with those decisions.

As consumers, the public should demand that the electric utilities who consume almost all of the output of the coal industry, require their suppliers to use the safest approaches and the best technology for handling coal wastes, rather than the cheapest. The costs of doing less must no longer be paid by those who live downhill and downstream from coal mines and processing plants.

As citizens the public must demand that our elected and appointed officials maintain vigilant oversight of the coal industry before tragedy occurs, not as a temporary and inadequate sop after tragedy strikes.

As voters the public must demand that our elected legislative and executive branch officials place a higher premium on public and miner protection than on short-term industry profits and convenience. With all due respect, we don t need further studies, we need a clear commitment to a public policy that elevates public safety and environmental quality over the private profit derived in choosing the cheapest processing technology or mining method.8

1 This assessment was prepared on October 18-19, 2001 by Tom FitzGerald, Director, Kentucky Resources Council, Inc., P.O. Box 1070 Frankfort Ky. 40602, on behalf of the National Citizens Coal Law Project of the Council. It is subject to possible revision and correction as additional information, heretofore unavailable to the public, becomes available from MSHA and the NAS/NRC.

2 According to the MSHA Report of Investigation, MSHA relied on interviews of past and present MCCC employees, contractors, and persons living along the affected streams; and a comprehensive geotechnical evaluation of the breakthrough area.

The geotechnical evaluation referred to is, presumably, the report developed by TRIAD Engineering of St. Albans, West Virginia, dated March 2001, since the MSHA Report indicates no other geophysical testing or other physical sampling conducted by MSHA beyond the TRIAD drilling, the geophysical testing conducted for TRIAD, and downhole videotaping by the state of Kentucky.

3 The internal conflict between the current management and the technical reviewers, trivialized as a food fight by the current Labor Secretary, appears instead to reflect an underlying tension between the evidence as developed by the TRIAD firm and the MSHA investigation team, and the desire of current management to recast the facts. A Congressional inquiry into the accident and the handling of the investigation by MSHA is necessary and appropriate.

4 Ironically, having hired the most prestigious geotechnical firm in the region to perform the drilling and analyze the results of the field data gathering, the MSHA report attempts to undercut the TRIAD conclusions with a series of statements characterizing the TRIAD report in a way that MSHA knew, when the report was written, were not accurate. The feeble attempt to cast aspersions on the TRIAD report do not undercut the validity of the TRIAD data or TRIAD s analysis thereof.

The MSHA Report discusses the TRIAD Engineering report in three paragraphs on pages 21-22. MSHA first criticizes TRIAD for not having access to all of the maps, plans, interviews and other background information, noting that for these reasons, confusion may result. One might legitimately question what maps, plans, interviews and other information MSHA believes it has that TRIAD didn t, why TRIAD was not given the additional information, and how the information changes or alters the conclusions contained in the TRIAD report. We are left to wonder, since after raising the spectre of confusion on TRIAD s part, MSHA identified only three specific areas, each of which had been raised with TRIAD in May and had been shown not to be a matter of confusion.

First, MSHA notes that the TRIAD conclusion that the impoundment failure is a consequence of mining operations in the Coalburg seam advancing in close proximity to the outcrop of the coal seam, and points out that the mining at the point of the breakthrough had been complete in 1981, long before the impoundment was constructed. The writer obviously intends to convey to the reader that TRIAD is confused (and therefore their conclusion about the cause of the failure suspect) because they don t even apparently know which came first, the mining or the impoundment. In truth, TRIAD knew fully well that the mining had been completed in 1981, as it indicated to MSHA in a letter dated May 22, 2001:

The purpose of this statement is to indicate that the

ultimate cause of the failure, in our opinion, was the

minimal amount of solid, competent coal/bedrock between

the end of the mine workings in Entry No. 1 and

unconsolidated material at the base of the impoundment. We

are aware that the mining in the Coalburg seam occurred before

the construction of the slurry impoundment and did not

intend to infer otherwise.

Yet, five months later, MSHA s report resurrected this non-issue, creating the spectre of confusion where none existed.

MSHA points to a second area of supposed confusion, in the use of the term outcrop by MCCC and by TRIAD. The MSHA Report text on pages 21-22 attempts to finesse the discrepancy between the MCCC 1994 filing and the TRIAD findings, but the attempt fails. We are left with the hard evidence that there was far less coal barrier at the area of breakthrough than represented by the company.

Again, TRIAD had already explained that to MSHA on this point in May, 2001:

The Martin County Coal plan view drawing was referenced to

indicate the discrepancy between the Coalburg outcrop line

as indicated on the drawing and the actual amount of

competent, effective coal/bedrock present between the

end of the mine entries and the impoundment as determined

by our subsurface investigation. Although there may have

been 70 horizontal feet of material between the end of Entry

No. 1 and the base of the slurry impoundment, only a

fraction of this material was competent coal/bedrock.

The question is whether, in any manner material to the review and approval of the continued use of the impoundment after the 1994 failure, the mine maps and drawings submitted by MCCC were inaccurate. The evidence, notwithstanding MSHA s effort to paper over the discrepancies by highlighting apparent confusion on the part of TRIAD, is that there is a significant and material variation between the evidence found and representations made in the 1994 submittal. The MSHA Report findings on pages 27 and 29 so indicate.

MSHA concludes the three-paragraph effort to undercut the TRIAD Report by suggesting that TRIAD had represented that the failure of the impoundment was horizontal in nature, and that TRIAD is mistaken in this regard. MSHA quotes the TRIAD conclusion that This minimal thickness of solid coal barrier (15-18 feet) combined with the continually increasing hydrostatic pressure as a result of the rising slurry level resulted in piping/erosion of the barrier and eventual breakthrough of slurry into the mine workings, and disputes what MSHA reads as an assertion by TRIAD that the failure was horizontal in nature. MSHA, having created a strawman, proceeds to dispute the TRIAD conclusion as to the angle of failure (but not as to the role of the thin barrier).

Again, MSHA had previously raised this issue with TRIAD and TRIAD had, in May, 2001, responded and dispelled any supposed confusion:

It should not be inferred from our report that we believe the

failure path of the slurry into Entry No. 1 was entirely along a

horizontal path. We suspect the failure path of the slurry

through the unconsolidated strata (natural soil and

seepage barrier material) was at an angle. This flow

path probably corresponded to the shortest distance between the bottom of the slurry impoundment and the point where the

coal seam (coal barrier for Entry No. 1) met unconsolidated material. After penetrating the unconsolidated material, we believe the slurry flowed basically horizontally through the remaining portion of the coal (coal barrier) or along the interface between the top of the coal seam and overlying sandstone bedrock. . . .

As discussed in our report, the amount of coal barrier present beyond the end of Entry No. 1 was at most 15 to 18 ft. thick, measured horizontally. If the end of Entry No. 1 were extended beyond the limits depicted on Martin County Coal drawing, as was the case in other areas of the mine, the actual coal barrier would have been less than 15 to 18 ft. During the rapid inflow of slurry into the end of Entry No. 1, the force of the flowing slurry eroded away all but a small portion of the coal barrier and a portion of the sandstone roof, as depicted on Drawing No. C00553-5 (Profile D-D) of our report.

5 While NAS fell far short of recommending that such drilling be undertaken for existing and new impoundments, recommending instead that study and demonstration projects be funded, the TRIAD investigation demonstrates the availability and utility of drilling to validate information on mine location and extent.

6 There exist a number of technologies for separating and managing coal mine wastes that are in use domestically and in Europe, including reinjection into mine voids by wet or pneumatic reinjection; dry filter or belt press technology, use of incised and other non-embankment impoundments, etc. While NAS recommended promotion and use of best available technology it did so only in the context of building better embankment impoundments, not in choosing the best among alternative technologies that might avoid impoundments entirely or partially. Among the various industries, the coal industry stands virtually alone in being able to choose the cheapest rather than the best and safest among technologies.

7 The NAS Study, for example, recommended that MSHA and OSM should have clear authority to review basin design. That clear authority already exists there is no distinction drawn in law or regulations between review of the embankment and review of the pool area; merely a failure to utilize ample existing authority.

8 This assessment was prepared on October 18-19, 2001 by Tom FitzGerald, Director, Kentucky Resources Council, Inc., P.O. Box 1070 Frankfort Ky. 40602, on behalf of the National Citizens Coal Law Project of the Council. It is subject to possible revision and correction as additional information, heretofore unavailable to the public, becomes available from MSHA and the NAS/NRC.

14



Contact Information
Privacy Policy
Webmaster & Acknowledgments
Contributions