The West Virginia Dept. of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation to Massey subsidiary Marfork Coal for failure to meet a required safety factor at its Brushy Fork sludge impoundment. The safety factor indicates the amount of additional force, beyond expected maximums, that a structure can endure. At the legal standard of 1.5, Brushy Fork would be able to endure 50% more pressure than anticipated. It currently meets a safety factor of 1.32.
Citizens disagree with the DEP’s statement, released Monday, which states that “there is no risk to communities downstream of the impoundment.” The DEP contends that only the upstream expansion portion is non-compliant and that the face of the dam is sound.
Community members cite concerns about potential breakthroughs via abandoned deep mines under the dam. In 2000, the bottom of a Massey-operated impoundment in Martin County, KY broke in to an underground mine, releasing 300 million gallons of sludge. Inspectors previously claimed that the dam was sound.
Another threat to Brushy Fork’s integrity is blasting on Coal River Mountain’s Bee Tree permit site, adjacent to the dam. A recent tree sit by civil resistance campaign Climate Ground Zero halted blasting on the site for nine days.
The WVDEP issued the violation following a 10-day notification they received from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining.
“The DEP’s failure to act without federal prompting is further proof that it is not doing its job and should be taken over by the Office of Surface Mining and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” said Vernon Haltom, co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch.
Massey Energy is allowed to appeal the violation, but is currently required to take measures that will bring Brushy Fork up to legal standards.
The DEP’s press release can be viewed on their website.