West Virginia's environmental news is wide ranging and diverse. Let's take a look at all the highlights for April:
Proposed surface mine threatens two Appalachian communities
Several Fayetteville residents have voiced their concerns about a new and expanding surface mine located in the New River watershed.
Frasure Creek Mining LLC, a West Virginia-based operation owned by a company based in India, has applied for four new mine permits, including five valley fill permits, in the Loop Creek and New River areas. Frasure Creeks operations have already caused impact on communities along Route 60.
The communities of Beards Fork and Kincaid lie at the center of proposed operations and could be the next small towns to become extinct due to surface mining. Beards Fork is an old coal mining town that 1,043 people call home and 315 people occupy the small town of Kincaid.
A big concern of residents is the future of the New River. Both the New and Gauley Rivers are Fayette County's biggest economic boosters. Both rivers are listed as national rivers, which are supposed to mean they are protected.
Frasure Creek mining has a long list of violations. They have over 20,000 water discharge violations and fraud for falsifying reports, Frasure Creek and another mining company were sued by four environmental groups in 2010. According to the Daily Independent of Ashland, Ky., the Energy and Environment Cabinet investigated, finding 2,700 violations but terming them "transcription errors." A settlement levied fines of $310,000 and $350,000.
All of the coal mined by Frasure Creek Mining Company is shipped to India where the company is based.
Harrison County mine shut down due to sediment pond spill
A Harrison County coal operator was ordered to halt all operations until they clean up a spill from a sediment pond. The DEP issued an imminent danger citation order on Monday at the Coal Valley Williams No. 2 mine. The spill was reported around 9 a.m. There has been no evidence of a fish kill due to the spill. The spill traveled into Bingamon Creek and the West Fork River.
The cause of the spill remains undetermined.
Former Massey Energy miner pleads guilty to federal charges
Thomas Harrah, a former Massey Energy Co. miner, pled guilty to federal criminal charges on Wednesday in the federal court in Beckley.
Harrah, 45, was charged with one count each of making a false statement on a mine safety inspection document and lying to FBI and MSHA investigators.
Harrah faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each charge. He will be sentenced on Aug. 11, 2011.
The charges centered on claims that Harrah conducted numerous safety exams at the Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County.
Wyoming County mine gets seven citations related to miner's death
Seven citations were issued to the operator of a Wyoming County mine. All of the citations are connected to the death of 19-year-old John C. Lester Jr.
Lester died in a conveyer belt accident at Baylor Mining's Jims Branch No. 3 mine on Jan. 27, 2011.
MSHA officials state that it also cited two individuals in the death of 19-year-old apprentice miner.
According to MSHA's report, Lester was asphyxiated after falling onto a conveyer belt, suffering a serious head injury and being buried under coal.
MSHA records show that Baylor has agreed to change its belt configuration and give all underground workers communication devices.
Chesapeake Energy halted from moving contaminated soil in Wetzel Co.
Chesapeake Energy has been blocked from removing contaminated soil from a waste pit in Wetzel County by a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Frederick P. Stamp issued a temporary restraining order against the company earlier this week.
The ruling came as a result of a lawsuit that was filed by a Wetzel County couple who claim Chesapeake unlawfully disposed of drilling wastes in the pit. The pit is located on Larry and Jana Rine's property at Silver Hill.
Court records show preliminary tests found diesel fuel, benzene and other contaminants in the soil.
Massey Energy takeover will be finalized by July
Alpha Natural Resources Inc. and Massey Energy Co. have announced that Alpha's takeover of Massey could be completed within the next seven weeks.
The two companies made the announcement in a joint press release yesterday. A special stockholder meeting will be held on June 1.
The companies stated that April 27 would be the date for determining the holders of common stock that will be entitled to vote at the special meetings.
MSHA to release unflattering documents on its audits
MSHA says that it will be releasing dozens of often unflattering documents detailing internal audits at field offices all across the country.
The reports will detail field offices across the country from fiscal 2008 through 2010. The reports note serious lapses by MSHA inspectors, and determine inspectors at times failed to evaluate the gravity and negligence of violations by mine operators.
The audits point out problems like at MSHA's Morgantown office where inconsistent efforts to make sure a particular unnamed mine was fixing violations in 2009.
MSHA says that it has since made major changes in its training methods to address the problems the audit reveals.
Sierra Club criticizes WVU Marcellus shale program
West Virginia's branch of the Sierra Club is criticizing a West Virginia University program to teach communities about Marcellus shale drilling because they say it receives funding from the natural gas industry.
According to the Sierra Club, the program does not give participants enough information about the environmental damage caused by Marcellus Shale drilling.
The program received $50,000 each from Chesapeake and Dominion and $25,000 from EQT.
The sessions feature presentations by a WVU geology professor, a natural gas attorney and representatives of the state Department of Environmental Protection and the West Virginia Water Research Institute at the university.
Sierra Club officials say that the presentations are not inaccurate, but that they leave out certain aspects of Marcellus drilling. There are additional sessions scheduled throughout the month of May.
Marshall County fatal fire lawsuit against power plant settled
A lawsuit from a 2006 fatal smokestack fire at a Marshall County power plant has been settled for $27 million.
The settlement was reached last week as the trial was getting under way in Marshall County Circuit Court.
The suit was brought by three workers who were rescued and the family of a worker who was killed in the fire.
Rabid Raccoon reported in Preston County
The Preston County Health Department has reported a rabid raccoon in the Albright area. There have been no reports of the raccoon biting anyone, but officials are now on alert. The raccoon tested positive for the rabies virus after fighting with a person's dog and killing it.
This is the third case of rabies in Preston County in the last year. County officials say the number is unusually high, but higher numbers have been reported by other counties. They say the high number of waterways and raccoons have contributed to that number in Preston County.
The Health Department wants to remind people to avoid contact with wild animals and not to keep them as pets, especially if they're babies. It is also important to ensure that dogs and cats have rabies vaccinations. Roaming animals are more likely to be exposed to rabies. If you are bit by an animal, immediately wash the wound with soap and water and seek a physician or contact local conservation officers and animal control. Never try to handle a rabies situation on your own.
MSHA issued 134 citations during last round of inspections
MSHA has announced that it issued 134 citations during its latest round of inspections targeting big problem mines.
The announcement made on Thursday states that 60 of the violations were uncovered at coal mines in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee throughout the month of March.
MSHA stated that two of the West Virginia mines are operated by — guess who — Massey Energy Co.
MSHA has conducted 244 impact inspections and issued more than 4,800 citations.
Economic Development Authority backs proposed coal to gas plant
The state Economic Development Authority says that it is backing a proposed $4 billion plant to convert coal to gasoline.
The board voted on Thursday to authorize developer TransGas Development Systems to sell up to $3 billion in revenue bonds for the project.
TransGas will sell its first bonds near the end of the year. Construction is scheduled to start in July.
The plant will be located near Wharncliffe in Mingo County. It is expected to convert coal into 756,000 gallons of gasoline a day.
Developers are planning a ceremonial groundbreaking at the Mingo County site. TransGas Development Systems says it's scheduled the event for May 9 in Wharncliffe. The $4 billion Adams Fork Energy plant will produce 756,000 gallons of gasoline from coal each day. It would be the first of its type in the country.
Construction is expected to take four years and create 3,000 construction jobs.
Army Corps. Of Engineers re-examining a Massey Energy permit
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will voluntarily re-examine a permit for a Massey Energy mine located in Logan County.
The agency tells U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers it could re-instate, change or revoke the permit.
Environmental groups sued days after the permit was first granted, alleging violations of the federal Clean Water Act. They claimed the permit would wrongly let Highland bury more than two miles of natural streams.
Judge Chambers issued a preliminary restraining order and scheduled another hearing for May 10.
Randolph County offering bounty on coyotes
The Randolph County Farm Bureau has announced its plans to start offering bounties for coyote kills. The purpose of the bounties is to reduce the animal's population and protect livestock.
The County Commission has agreed to provide $2,000 for the bounty program. Farm bureau members match that amount. The bounty's dollar amount hasn't been determined.
Bounties will be awarded only to Randolph County residents for coyotes killed within the county.
So far coyotes have caused at least $44,000 in damage to livestock in the past year.
White-nose syndrome discovered in New River Gorge area
The deadly white-nose syndrome in bats has been discovered at the New River Gorge National River.
According to Mike Graham a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist saw little brown bats flying out of abandoned mine portals in the middle of the day this past winter. At that time of day and year, they should have been hibernating.
Tests have since confirmed the disease.
Six of the park's cave species have proven to be vulnerable to the syndrome elsewhere in the nation.