February was an interesting month of environmental news for the Mountain State. Here's a roundup of the biggest green news for West Virginia:
Report shows natural gas drilling effects forests
A newly released report says that dead trees and eroded land are part of the damage caused by natural gas drilling in Fernow Experimental Forest in Tucker County.
The report by the U.S. Forest Service was released in January. The report evaluates the effects of Berry Energy's operation on the forest. According to the report, more than 700 trees were cut during right-of-way construction. Nearly 150 trees were killed and ground vegetation was destroyed at a site where the company disposed of some used drilling fluids by spraying them onto the land.
MSHA chief says coal producers must do more to prevent deaths
Mine Safety and Health Administration chief Joe Main says coal companies must do more to prevent injuries and deaths in their mines.
Main's comments came at a speech to the West Virginia Coal Association. Main said producers need to find and prevent safety violations and do more to train their employees.
Main says his agency will continue to do surprise inspections at mines with poor safety records and hazardous conditions. So far those inspections have resulted in 4,100 citations at nearly 200 mines nationally.
Scientists predict stink bugs could put some W.Va. farmers out of business
Federal scientists are predicting that a stink bug invasion could put some West Virginia farmers out of business.
Hundreds packed into a Shepherdstown auditorium to hear Department of Agriculture entomologist, Dr. Tracy Leskey, discuss the stink bug.
Leskey, who works at the Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, has been studying ways to wipe out the bugs. According to Leskey, the bugs destroyed a quarter of the region's crops last year.
Stink bugs feed on more than 300 crops, including corn, soy beans and tomatoes. They can breed twice in a single season. Leskey says stink bugs are now in 30 states and the District of Columbia.
Massey Energy reports an unsuccessful fourth quarter
The fourth quarter was not a successful one for Massey Energy. The company reported a quarterly loss of $70 million.
The take over by Alpha Natural Resources may be the biggest boost to the company's bottom line.
"We believe Massey would have been able to increase shareholder value significantly over the next several years, even if we had remained independent," said Bob Inman, a retired admiral and non-executive chairman for the board of directors of Massey. "However, after all of the data was placed before us, it became clear that the combination with Alpha offered the greatest near term and long-term value for our shareholders."
"I concur with the admiral," said CEO Baxter Phillips. "It was not an easy process. But at the end of the day, we came away convinced that the value of the combined companies was too compelling to ignore."
"Our voluntary quits were about 12 percent higher than the fourth quarter in 2009 which hurt us on the year-over-year comparison," said Massey Chief Operating Officer Chris Adkins. "The good news is while the fourth quarter turnover was high, it was significantly better than the third quarter. With the announced merger, one would think a reduction in turnover will occur."
MSHA says miner’s death should not have happened
MSHA says the accident at Baylor Mining’s Jim Branch operation that killed 19-year-old John Lester, Jr. never should have happened. MSHA officials say the accident was entirely preventable.
Investigators with the state Mine Safety Office are re-interviewing several co-workers this week to get more details about the incident.
Lester was a red hat miner who MSHA officials said should not have been working alone. A red hat miner has less than six months training and has not yet completed 80 hours of underground mining instruction and successfully taken a test given by the state Mine Safety office.
MSHA officials say red hat workers should work with a black hat worker at all times.
Death reported at Consol Energy mine
An operator at Consol Energy’s McElroy mine in Marshall County was killed when the operator got pinned between a bulldozer and a water truck.
Both vehicles are owned by separate contractors, not Consol. The man was connecting a tow chain to the truck when the dozer rolled backward, pinning him. Those at the site worked quickly to free him. He was alive when he was freed, but died before he could be flown to a local hospital.
Sen. Manchin pens EPA Fair Play Act of 2011
Junior Sen. Joe Manchin has penned the Environmental Protection Agency's Fair Play Act of 2011.
Manchin argues that the EPA overstepped its authority when it vetoed a clean water act permit that the Army Corps of Engineers had issued for the Spruce Number One Mine in Logan County. If passed, the act would prevent the EPA from retroactively changing its rules on businesses after permits have already been granted. The legislation introduced by Manchin is similar to the bill brought to the House last month by Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito.
Sen. Rockefeller says coal industry has to up its game
U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller says the coal industry has to up its game to prepare for tomorrow's energy economy.
The West Virginia Democrat told members of the West Virginia Coal Association last week that the industry is at a crossroads with challenges on several fronts. These challenges include competition from natural gas, the EPA's greenhouse regulations and the need to develop technology to burn coal cleaner. Rockefeller says he doesn't see enough being done to meet these challenges. He says efforts to find solutions must intensify and that the industry and lawmakers must do more to improve mine safety.
Farms in West Virginia on decline
The West Virginia department of Agriculture released figures that show that West Virginia has fewer farms and farmland than it did in 2009.
West Virginia had 23,000 farms in 2010, a decline of 200 from the previous year. The total land in farms fell by 50,000 acres to 3.65 million acres. The U.S. has an estimated 2.2 million farms in 2010, about the same as the previous year.
Accident at Fayette County mine leaves two miners injured
An accident at a Fayette County mine resulted in injuries for two miners.
Lesli Fitzwater, the West Virginia Mine Safety communications director, says the accident occurred at the Mammoth Alloy Powelton Mine near Alloy.
The two miners were alert and talking when taken to the hospital by ambulance.
Federal judge throws out Aracoma lawsuit
A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit that was filed by the widows of two miners killed in a 2006 Aracoma Alma No.1 mine fire.
MSHA admitted in 2007 to significant lapses by inspectors, supervisors and district managers at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine located in Logan County. A federal judge says that MSHA can not be held liable because its inspectors can not be held negligent under the law.
Marcellus Shale debate looks at surface owners' rights
The Marcellus Shale debate has West Virginia lawmakers turning their attention to the rights of surface owners.
How much water is consumed by drilling into the vast natural gas deposit is also on tap for a hearing by the House of Delegates. The mile-deep shale field is considered one of the richest gas reserves in the world.
One provision up for discussion involves forced pooling. This would require drillers that seek to develop a particular gas deposit to compensate everyone who owns a share of the rights. But it also forces all those owners to agree to the drilling in the process.
Restraining order bars Bayer CropScience plant from producing methyl isocyanate
A federal judge has temporarily barred Bayer’s CropScience Plant from producing the toxic chemical methyl isocyanate or MIC at the plant located in Institute, W.Va.
U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin issued the temporary restraining order at the request of Institute residents.
MIC is used to produce pesticides at the West Virginia plant. MIC is the toxic chemical that leaked from Union Carbide's Bhopal India Plant in 1984, resulting in thousands of deaths.
Environmental groups say they will sue Allegheny Energy
Three environmental groups are warning Allegheny Energy that they will sue the company for violating the Clean Water Act unless it cleans up alleged arsenic releases at its coal-fired power plant in Albright.
The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club announced the lawsuit notification. Federal law requires a 60-day notice of intent to sue for Clean Water Act violations.
Pennsylvania-based Allegheny had no immediate comment. The three groups claim Allegheny is releasing illegal amounts of arsenic into the Cheat River from coal ash dumps at a small power plant in Preston County.
New rules to protect streams will not come to later this year
The Federal Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement states that it won't have new proposed rules to protect streams in mountainous areas until later this year.
The director of the federal agency said that his agency is still studying how different disposal methods affect water quality.
Director Joe Pizarchik said, "the Bush administration swung the regulatory pendulum too far in favor of industry when it rewrote decades-old rules that kept coal companies from dumping waste within 100 feet of streams." The agency must now find a balance between supporting coal mining and protecting the environment. Pizarchik also says the agency can't verify projected job losses cited in a draft document that was recently obtained by the Associated Press.
Tax breaks for Marcellus Shale drilling considered
West Virginia lawmakers are now considering tax breaks to encourage development of the state's Marcellus Shale natural gas fields. The breaks would extend tax credits for alternative fuel vehicles and also expand it to include refueling facilities.
Another program up for consideration would offer gas companies tax credits for in-state research and development.
The bill would apply a manufacturing investment tax credit to this industry.
The Senate Finance Committee is considering its own version of this measure.
Massey Energy to set up medical monitoring fund for coalfield residents
Massey Energy plans to set up a medical monitoring fund for southern West Virginia residents who filed suit against the company claiming the company poisoned their wells with coal slurry.
The deal was reached on medical monitoring for those who believe their health is at risk from contaminated well water. Massey still contends that its operations are safe and have caused no harm to anyone. The fund will provide for health evaluations that should ease the plaintiffs' concerns. The exact amount of the fund is unknown.
Mechel Keystone Service Industries idles coal prep plant
Mechel Keystone Service Industries has announced that it has indefinitely idled a coal preparation plant in West Virginia. According to the company the move became necessary because of the EPA’s stance on mining permits.
The plant requires a multimillion-dollar modernization to operate efficiently. The company says that it can't determine if the plant's coal processing capacity is needed because the EPA has refused to issue new water quality permits to mining operations.
The plant will remain idle until federal regulators issue mining permits to support its operation.
King Coal wins battle over coal slurry injections
King Coal has won a long running battle over underground coal slurry injection.
The House Judiciary Committee stripped a permanent moratorium from legislation aimed at curbing the practice.
They did keep tax breaks designed to encourage coal companies to research alternatives for treating slurry.
Many coalfield residents and environmentalists say the practice of coal slurry injection can be linked to cancer and other diseases.
MSHA issues 215 citations in January
MSHA says it has issued 215 citations and orders during the month of January at 15 coal mines in seven states.
MSHA said the inspections took place at mines with poor compliance histories, high accident rates, or other problems.
Two mines cited were from West Virginia: Carter Roag Coal Co.'s Pleasant Hill mine with six citations, and International Coal Group Inc.'s Beckley Pocahontas Mine with 10 citations.
A southwest Virginia operation, Nine Mile Mining Inc.'s No. 2 mine faces 15 citations. Seven Kentucky mines collectively face 141 citations and five orders.
Researchers discover way to control pollution in Monongahela River
West Virginia researchers say they have discovered a way to help control total dissolved solids in the Monongahela River.
Paul Ziemkiewicz of West Virginia University has been working since 2009 on a system that lets 14 coal mine pumping stations discharge water without increasing pollution.
Ziemkiewicz says the problem with discharge pollution is timing: "When water flow is low, the salt-laden discharge raises concentrations. If the wastewater is pumped out when river flow is high, the pollution is effectively diluted."
Coal companies can monitor water flow levels through gauges linked to a U.S. Geological Survey website.
Ziemkiewicz explains that since the program began in January 2010, there has been no rise in total dissolved solids, and peak salt concentrations have dropped at all four stations.
Alpha and Massey cited over fatalities
Alpha Natural Resources and a Massey Energy contractor have been cited by MSHA over fatalities at two coal mines last year.
Alpha's Kingston Mining Inc. failed to comply with its roof control plan when roof bolter William Roger Dooley was killed in a roof fall back in October. They were also cited for coal dust and ventilation violations.
Massey contractor Medford Trucking was cited in the December death of truck driver Charles Qualls, whose vehicle ran off a haul road at the Republic Energy Surface Mine. Inspectors found that three of the six trailer brakes were not working properly.
West Virginians will get the chance to buy locally raised natural beef
West Virginia residents will soon have the choice to purchase locally raised natural beef under a new test program.
The Mountain State Natural pilot program has six farmers and 30 cattle to begin the program.
Executive Director Melissa Hinterer says the cattle must be able to graze daily to qualify for the "Mountain State Natural" label. The participating farmers also cannot give the cattle hormones or steroids.
The West Virginia University Extension Service will be working with farmers on the basics of genetic feeding and all other aspects of raising cows naturally.
A farmers' cooperative has been created for natural meat production.
Two coal miners indicted on federal charges
Luke W. Pugh and Charles J. Ferrell, two West Virginia coal miners indicted on federal charges stemming questions about their credentials have agreed to plead guilty to unspecified charges.
49-year-old Pugh and 39-year-old Ferrell are scheduled to plead guilty on March 8 in Elkins federal court. Both men are accused of falsely claiming to be certified to do safety inspections and work as foremen.
Pugh, who is from Jane Lew, was indicted on 37 federal charges in December. Ferrell, a resident of Nettie, faces a 30-count indictment.
MSHA cites Consol Energy for contributing to miner’s death
MSHA has cited Consol Energy for a violation the agency says contributed to the death of a West Virginia coal miner in July 2010.
According to MSHA’s report, Consol didn't adequately support a section of the wall that fell on 39-year-old Jesse Adkins at its Loveridge No. 22 mine. He was pinned between a piece of heavy equipment and a 23-foot-long, 4-feet-wide chuck of rock.
The accident happened while Consol was mining through rock. Consol has yet to reply to the violation.
Local farm recognized nationally for environmental efforts
A down-home country farm in West Virginia is being nationally recognized for environmental excellence.
West Virginia’s Department of Agriculture announced that the Shoemaker Farm in Belington has received the Family Farm Environmental Excellence Award at the 2011 International Poultry Expo in Atlanta.
All applicants were evaluated in many categories such as manure and nutrient management, community involvement and wildlife enhancement techniques.
The Shoemaker’s 172-acre farm is owned and operated by mother and son Carole and Tim Shoemaker. They produce more than 650,000 birds annually for Pilgrim's Pride. The farm uses a nutrient management plan, diverts rainwater and has dedicated forested woodland as a protected sanctuary for wildlife.
Many congratulations to the Shoemaker family!