W.Va. coal prep plant spills slurry into creek
By SARAH PLUMMER, Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A pipeline ruptured at a coal-processing plant Tuesday, sending 108,000 gallons of coal slurry into a Kanawha River tributary, about 18 miles upstream from where a large chemical spill at a different plant tainted drinking water for 300,000 people a month ago.
West Virginia American Water does not anticipate the slurry spill to affect public drinking water in the Charleston area as last month’s chemical leak did. But a state environmental official said it could have “steep consequences” on the environment, especially the river itself.
Slurry from the pipeline at Patriot Coal’s Kanawha Eagle Prep Plant near Winifrede in eastern Kanawha County spilled into six miles of Fields creek and one-half mile of the Kanawha River, said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman.
The leak lasted from about 2:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m., but could have been stopped more quickly and confined if the plant’s alarm system worked. The DEP is investigating why it failed, he said.
Last month, the prep plant discontinued the use of crude MCHM — the chemical involved in a Jan. 9 spill at a Freedom Industries plant in Charleston — about 18 miles downriver — that tainted the local water supply for days. Huffman said the plant now uses Polyethylene glycol, which is considered non-carcinogenic. The slurry does contain heavy metals and other toxins, however, and “when this much coal slurry goes into a stream, it wipes the stream out,” Huffman said.
Janine Orf, Vice President of Investor Relations at Patriot Coal, said in a statement that cleanup at the site is underway “and will continue until state regulatory officials determine the spill is remediated.”
Water from Fields Creek is being pumped into a container so the creek bed can be vacuumed of black materials, Huffman said. Solids in the creek water will settle inside the container and be gleaned, he said.
As a precaution, Huffman said the DEP has notified Mason County officials because of well fields about 75 miles away from the spill as well other industries that draw water from the creek. Water samples have been taken from both Kanawha River and Fields Creek for testing.
Patriot Coal Spills Waste 2 Months After Bankruptcy Exit
Patriot Coal Corp. (PATCA), which emerged from bankruptcy in December, spilled waste into a creek feeding West Virginia’s Kanawha River, a month after Freedom Industries Inc. contaminated Charleston’s water with a coal chemical.
About 108,000 gallons of slurry waste from washing coal spilled into Fields Creek from the Kanawha Eagle Prep Plant near Winifrede, West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. A slurry-line seal failed sometime after 2:30 a.m. and the company shut the pump at about 5:30 a.m., the department said.
The plant, located about 16 miles south of Charleston, is 95 miles from the nearest surface water intake and so the leak isn’t expected to affect public water systems, the state said. A coal cleaning chemical spilled from a Freedom Industries storage tank last month, polluting water used by about 300,000 residents in and around Charleston.
“These kinds of spills aren’t unexpected given the dangerous manner in which the chemicals and wastes from the industry are stored,” Lisa Evans, a lawyer at San Francisco-based Earthjustice, a non-profit focused on environmental issues, said by phone. “The frequency of failures is likely to increase.”
The spill impacted about 6 miles of Fields Creek, which empties into the Kanawha River. The creek was affected much more than the river, Thomas J. Aluise, a spokesman for the state DEP, said in the e-mail.
While the DEP initially reported that the Patriot plant was using MCHM, the same material that spilled from the Freedom site, it subsequently learned that the company phased out the chemical last month, Aluise said.
The spilled slurry mostly consists of fine coal, rock and water, St. Louis-based Patriot said in an e-mailed statement. Patriot is cooperating with state officials on the investigation, containment and cleanup.
On Feb. 2, an estimated 82,000 tons of coal-ash spilled into the Dan River after a storm drainage pipe under a containment pond ruptured at a shuttered Duke Energy Corp. coal-fired power plant in Eden, North Carolina. Coal ash is the byproduct of coal combustion and is typically mixed with water to form a slurry that cuts handling costs while increasing the risk of spills, Evans said.
West Virginia said enforcement action against Patriot is pending. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2012 after a slump in coal prices as some power stations switched to cheaper natural gas.
Patriot exited bankruptcy as a closely held company on Dec. 18, using $545 million in financing led by Barclays Bank Plc and Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. It received $250 million of junior capital in a rights offering from Knighthead Capital Management LLC and other unsecured creditors.
Patriot’s Kanawha Eagle mining complex includes the Peerless mine, which opened in 2012, according to the company’s website.