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DEP Revokes Consol Dunkard Creek Discharge In Response To Permit Appeal

In response to an appeal by the Friends of Dunkard Creek and PennFuture, the Department of Environmental Protection revoked a change to the Shannopin Mine Dewatering Permit that allowed a discharge of acid mine drainage to the Green County stream.

As a result, the Environmental Hearing Board this week order DEP to pay the legal costs of the two groups submitting the appeal.

The Shannopin Mine Dewatering Project, which was designed to prevent a catastrophic breakout of acid mine water from the abandoned Shannopin Mine into Dunkard Creek, was originally granted a permit allowing less stringent cleanup of the dangerous water.

The challenged permit amendment, for which no public notice was given, would have allowed the project to collect water from Consolidation Coal Companys (Consol) permitted Humphrey No. 7 Mine, where no breakout risk exists, and to treat that water to the less than optimal cleanup allowed in the original emergency situation.

The permit amendment was granted by DEP despite a finding nine months before by a DEP biologist that the Shannopin Projects discharge into Dunkard Creek contained high levels of Total Dissolved Solids and other pollutants, which were causing harm to aquatic life in the creek.

DEP did the right thing by acknowledging the errors raised in our appeal and revoking the permit revision for the proposed Calvin Run pumping operation, said PennFuture Senior Attorney Kurt Weist. That revocation is important, continued Weist, because it prevents the pumping of additional high-TDS mine drainage out of Consols Humphrey Mine and into Dunkard Creek.

Equally important, emphasized Jim OConnell of the Friends of Dunkard Creek, are the actions DEP still must take concerning the current operations of the Shannopin Mine Dewatering Project.

DEP is more than eighteen months overdue in renewing the projects water discharge permit, said OConnell, and a full year ago, its water quality experts recommended that the permit contain more stringent contaminant limits. The purpose of those tougher limits is to prevent the discharge into Dunkard Creek from the projects Steele Shaft Treatment Facility from continuing to harm fish and aquatic life in the creek, and from contributing to TDS pollution in the Monongahela River.

OConnell and Weist both questioned the continued pumping of high-TDS mine drainage into the Shannopin Mine from Consols Humphrey Mine. As its name indicates, said Weist, the Shannopin Mine Dewatering Project was supposed to prevent an outbreak from the Shannopin Mine by removing water from the mine. DEP made that job a lot harder in 2005 by authorizing, without public notice, the transfer of nearly six million gallons of mine drainage per day into the Shannopin Mine from Consols Humphrey Mine at the Watkins Run borehole operation.

DEP documents state that the Shannopin Projects Steele Shaft pumps could be shut off for about ten years before an outbreak of mine drainage would occur, explained OConnell, and that the only reason the pumps are running at their current rate is to handle the water transferred into the Shannopin Mine from Consols Humphrey Mine. The sole purpose for that transfer is to allow the mining of coal reserves above the Humphrey Mine.

The only reason mine drainage from Consols Humphrey Mine makes its way into Dunkard Creek is that DEP allowed it to be transferred into the Shannopin Mine, said OConnell. Until the Shannopin Projects discharge meets the more stringent contaminant limits recommended a year ago, he continued, DEP should minimize the damage by shutting down the transfer of water from Humphrey to Shannopin and reducing the amount of water pumped from the Shannopin Mine into Dunkard Creek.

DEPs permit revocation letter and the EHB order are available online.

4/5/2010 PA Environment Digest.

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