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Coal Report for November 21, 2014

graphic from Appalachian Voices, one of the citizen groups preparing to file suit against Frasure Creek for violations of the Clean Water Act // found via http://appvoices.org/2014/11/17/frasure-creek-same-tricks/

Alpha Natural Resources has announced even more layoffs in Central Appalachia this month.   Most recently, the West Virginia State Journal reports that Alpha will be idling the Taylor Fork mine in Pike County, Kentucky, and reducing production at two mines in West Virgina: at the Ruby Energy mine in Mingo County and at the Rockspring Development mine in Wayne County.  All of these mines produce thermal coal.  In total, 60 people will be laid off in the short-term, and another 26 people will be retained temporarily to shut down operations at the Taylor Fork mine in Pike County.  Alpha said these layoffs occurred because of “an oversupply of thermal coal in the marketplace.”

Alpha also announced this month that it will permanently idle the Cucumber metallurgical mine in McDowell County, W.Va.  According to the Bluefield Daily TelegraphAlpha blamed this on the weak market for metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel—global met coal prices are the lowest they have been in seven years, and producers the world over are suffering Continue reading Coal Report for November 21, 2014

Coal Report for November 13, 2014

former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, right, on vacation in Monaco with former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice "Spike" Maynard // photo from the Associated Press, found via http://www.herald-dispatch.com/elections/x1619683909

Don Blankenship has been indicted.  According to a release from the US Attorney’s Office (and read more from the Charleston Gazette here, here, & here), the former CEO of Massey Energy was charged four times—including two counts of conspiracy to violate mine safety and health standards and hide those violations, one count of lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and another of securities fraud.  Massey owned the Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 coal miners were killed at once on April 5, 2010 in Raleigh County,WV, in a massive methane explosion.  The charges allege that between January 1, 2008 and April 9, 2010, Blankenship, in his position as Massey CEO, knowingly conspired to violate federal mine health and safety standards at Upper Big Branch, and also took part in a conspiracy to give workers at the mine advance notice of when inspectors were coming so that they could hide safety violations.  Prosecutors also allege that Blankenship lied to the Securities and Exchange Commission after the explosion about Massey’s health and safety standards to buoy the value of Massey stock.

These are landmark charges—as the Charleston Gazette has reported, it is rare for the CEOs themselves of major coal companies to be indicted.  Back in 2011, the paper quoted mine safety advocate Davitt McAteer of saying that normally, “Enforcement doesn’t reach into the boardroom.”  Blankenship has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing at Upper Big Branch, even though government and independent investigations all blamed Massey for the explosion, specifically the violation of Continue reading Coal Report for November 13, 2014

Coal Report for November 6, 2014

the Farmington Mine explosion of November 20, 1968 // photo via wikipedia (who says it's in the public domain--though it appears from this post on the Charleston Gazette's Coal Tattoo blog that the photo was taken by the Gazette's Larry Pierce (http://www.roanoke.com/news/regulators-seek-funds-from-four-justice-coal-mines/article_d38dffc9-6f2d-5df8-9dd9-8cf532c9ab28.html)

A new lawsuit is alleging that Consolidation Coal covered up evidence as to what caused the Farmington Mine Disaster, which killed 78 coal miners in 1968.  The Charleston Gazette reports that the disaster happened 46 years ago this month, when an explosion ripped through Consolidation Coal’s No. 9 mine in Farmington, West Virginia, killing 78 of the 99 workers underground at the time.  Even though the disaster led to a landmark federal mine safety law the next year, the government investigation into it was never really finished, and for decades, investigators said they couldn’t definitively say what actually caused the explosion.

But recently uncovered evidence cited in this lawsuit suggests the company tried to cover up their role in the disaster.  This lawsuit says that MSHA found explosive levels of methane gas in the mine the day before the explosion, and “inadequate overall” ventilation to keep these methane levels down, including ventilation fans not working.  The suit references a long-hidden memo saying that Consolidation Coal had intentionally disabled the alarm system on the ventilation fans, which is Continue reading Coal Report for November 6, 2014

Coal Report for October 29, 2014

Ky Rep. Keith Hall (D-Phelps), vice-chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, & the permit-holder for Pike County mines cited for safety & environmental violations // photo from LRC Public Information

Kentucky state representative Keith Hall has been indicted by a federal grand jury for bribing a mine inspector.  The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that Hall, who owns several mining operations in Pike County, paid $46,000 in bribes to mine inspector Kelly Shortridge between 2009 and 2011 in exchange for Shortridge ignoring environmental violations.  Hall reportedly funneled the bribes through a bogus shell company.  Shortridge, who resigned earlier this year, was also indicted for taking the bribes, for lying to the FBI, and for extortion.  As the Lexington Herald-Leader has reported, the pair made headlines last year when Representative Hall called the state to complain about Shortridge, with Hall complaining that he had already given the mine inspector “a small fortune” but that Shortridge was still shaking him down for more.  Hall reportedly said that Shortridge “liked the benjamins.”

As a coal operator, the vice chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment, and the chairman of the House Tourism, Development, and Energy committee, Hall has come under fire for several controversies in recent years.  Last year it was revealed that Hall holds permits to several east Kentucky mines with a long history of safety violations, including water pollution, improper maintenance of slurry ponds, and the reckless blasting of rocks onto several nearby homes and properties.  And just this April, the Appalachian News-Express reported (along with the Lexington Herald-Leader) that one of his coal companies leaked an unknown amount of a white, foamy chemical into the drinking water supply of Continue reading Coal Report for October 29, 2014

Coal Report for October 15, 2014

a coal train in the Pacific Northwest. a logjam in railroad traffic is causing delays of coal shipments across the country // photo from Paul K. Anderson at http://www.coaltrainfacts.org/docs/ct1.jpg

A West Virginia man has pleaded guilty to falsifying water quality reports for coal companies, the Charleston Gazette reports.  John W. Shelton, of Raleigh County, W.Va., worked for a company called Appalachian Laboratories, which analyzes water samples for coal companies under the federal Clean Water Act to make sure pollution laws are being followed.  But Shelton admitted to taking part in a conspiracy to falsify water samples that supposedly came from mining sites.  He admitted to diluting water samples with distilled water, switching out entire samples of water from coal sites with water he knew to be clean, and failing to keep water samples refrigerated.  US Attorneys said this was done to allow coal companies to avoid fines, and to ensure repeat business for Appalachian Laboratories.  They are continuing their investigation. The whole case raises questions about the Clean Water Act.  One attorney said “The whole Clean Water Act system relies on self reporting. . . If that self-reporting can’t be trusted, then the system just falls apart.”  Appalachian Laboratories does testing for over 100 mine sites in West Virginia, but it’s not known yet which mines were involved in this case.  Shelton faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Coal-fired power plants continue to experience problems actually getting coal due to delays in railroad service, SNL Energy reports.  According to an Arch Coal executive, last year’s frigid winter led to an increase in coal demand, but operators have found themselves unable to actually supply more coal because of railroad delays across the country, and analysts think these Continue reading Coal Report for October 15, 2014

Coal Report for October 8, 2014

the Boundary Dam Power Plant in Saskatchewan, Canada, the first commercial coal-fired plant to use carbon capture & storage technology // image via wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boundary_Dam_Power_Station#mediaviewer/File:SaskPower_Boundary_Dam_GS.jpg

A coal miner has been killed on the job in Kentucky.  WYMT-TV reports that Justin Mize, of Harrogate, Tennessee, was killed on Tuesday, October 7th in a rock collapse at the Tinsley Branch mine in Bell County, Ky.  According to MSHA’s preliminary report, he was crushed by a falling rock at a highwall mining site.  The mine is ultimately owned by Nally & Hamilton Enterprises, a coal operator based in Bardstown, Ky.  Mize became the 12th coal miner killed on the job in the US this year, and the first in Kentucky.

News of this latest tragedy comes just days after MSHA announced that the number of mines with serious and chronic safety violations has decreased sharply in recent years.  The AP reports that in 2010, in response to the Upper Big Branch disaster, MSHA began putting repeat and serious offenders on a Pattern of Violations, or POV, list, which meant that portions of a mine could be immediately shut down if more so-called significant and substantial safety violations were found.  MSHA says that Continue reading Coal Report for October 8, 2014