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OSM Summary Report

OSM Summary Report

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Published by petersoe0
OSM report on impoundments in West Virginia
OSM report on impoundments in West Virginia

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Published by: petersoe0 on Jan 10, 2013
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01/10/2013

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SUMMARY REPORTOffice of Surface Mining Reclamation and EnforcementOversight Report:
 
Coal Slurry Impoundment Breakthrough Potential (Phase III)
 
I. Executive Summary
Since 1996 there have been four major occurrences (three in Virginia, and one in MartinCounty, Kentucky) where coal slurry from an impoundment basin broke through intonearby underground works and caused environmental harm and in some casesendangered the public. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement(OSM) has conduct
ed numerous evaluations of Regulatory Authorities’ review of permit
applications with regard to risk of slurry impoundment breakthrough into undergroundmines. This Phase III report is the third oversight study in West Virginia. The twoprevious evaluations (Phases I and II) involved the review of seven, and three permits,respectively. Inadequately addressed breakthrough issues were noted in the Phase I andII evaluations. Phase III was conducted to determine if the noted issues were permitspecific, or programmatic in nature. Phase III included 15 permits of the 132 permittedslurry and mining related freshwater impoundments in West Virginia.OSM found theWest Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) waseffective in implementing its 2001 orders and subsequent 2003 rulemaking requiringoperators to reevaluate the potential for slurry to breakthrough into underground works.As a result of these actions, five of the 15 permits in the sample were ordered closed as aresult of findings that the subject impoundments did not meet the required breakthroughrisk criteria.However, during the same analysis, OSM found that certain aspects of breakthrough risk had not been addressed in the previous OSM, or other agency analyses,
or the WVDEP’s
actions taken to address the breakthrough issue. The inadequately addressedbreakthrough risk aspects included:
 
Impoundments that have been determined to have a high potential forbreakthrough into underground works are allowed to convert to a slurry cellconfiguration without additional geotechnical investigation to demonstrate thatthe continuation of slurry placement will not increase the likelihood of breakthrough.
 
New underground mines are allowed to enter the safety zones of cappedimpoundments without demonstrating that the previous slurry under the cap is nolonger flowable.
 
2
 
State files do not always contain adequate information regarding the possibilitythat mine workings exist in minable seams in the basin area.
 
There were numerous instances where the files lacked detail, containedinconsistencies and indicated that the State inspectors did not have an adequateunderstanding of the details of an impoundment plan.
 
Previous breakthrough analyses did not appear to take into consideration theprobability that below drainage mines were flooded and could not contain slurryin the event of a breakthrough without expelling potentially contaminated water.As a result of these findings, the WVDEP has agreed to the following:In our continued effort to most conservatively ensure the safety of all dam controlstructures under jurisdiction of our office, WVDEP will require Operators to perform thefollowing:
 
Provide additional written documentation, certified by a registered professionalengineer, or other qualified person, evaluating and detailing the determination of existing or proposed underground mining within the safety zones and otherproximate areas for embankment and basin areas.
 
Identify all minable coal seams in the safety zones and other proximate areas
using a seam height of 24 inches or greater to define “minable”. However,
WVDEP may classify seams of lessor height to be minable when information isavailable to indicate mining is likely. This evaluation must also be documentedand certified by a registered professional engineer, or other qualified person.
 
Evaluate existing or reclaimed slurry impoundments before undergroundworkings are allowed to encroach into the defined breakthrough safety zones toeliminate potential for slurry breakthrough.
 
Any new permit or revision to existing permits that propose underground mineworkings that will encroach within the footprint of an existing or reclaimed slurryimpoundment or impoundments safety zones shall require the applicant toevaluate the potential breakthrough risk as part of the subsidence control plan.
 
In cases of facility expansions, evaluate the condition of existing or reclaimedpool areas to assure that any expansion of the refuse or slurry disposal area doesnot increase the risk of breakthrough.
 
WVDEP will apply the most conservative interpretation so that the prohibition forboth the basin and the embankment apply when the two zones overlap.For existing impoundments, this information will be required at midterm review orrenewal, whichever occurs first. For future impoundments or expansion of existing
 
3facilities, this information will be incorporated and reflected in the design of the facility.Where other evidence is discovered that indicates undocumented underground miningmay have occurred, the WVDEP will require the above evaluation by order.
II. Background
 
Following four major slurry impoundment breakthrough occurrences since 1996, threein Virginia, and one in Martin County, Kentucky, OSM announced an initiative inFebruary 2001 to address potential future slurry impoundment breakthroughs. In West
Virginia, OSM and the WVDEP began an evaluation of the State’s review of permit
applications with regard to breakthrough potential. Initially, seven impoundmentsidentified by the WVDEP as those having the greatest breakthrough potential wereinvestigated (Phase 1). The reviews of six of these permits were deemed adequate;however, the geotechnical investigation of potentially minable seams in the vicinity of one impoundment was identified as inadequate.Since this was a small sample of older permits, OSM, with WVDEP concurrence,decided to evaluate three recently permitted impoundments at which construction was notcomplete (Phase II). Review of new (under construction) impoundments was expected topermit visual inspection of design features aimed at breakthrough prevention, which wasnot possible at the previously evaluated, older impoundments.During this second review, several scenarios were noted in which the permit reviewfailed to adequately identify or address breakthrough potential. The noted scenariosfollow:
 
Cases where thin coal barriers separated impoundments from mine workings.
 
Cases where inadequately sealed openings connected impoundments to mineworkings.
 
Cases where mine workings were located within both basin and embankmentsafety zones, and requirements for both were not considered.
 
Cases where minable seams, within impoundment safety zones, wereinadequately investigated.OSM worked with state officials and resolved the issues identified in the previous 10reports on a case by case basis. OSM then decided to conduct a third investigation withmore permits and experts from different locations in it agency to determine if these caseswere permit specific or if they pointed to programmatic flaws in the review process.OSM assigned teams of engineers and geologists from five different office locations toreview 15 permits in West Virginia.During the review, these teams were asking questions that may have not been emphasizedin previous oversight. Therefore, OSM management diverted the team members fromcontinued oversight and asked that they develop a technical peer reviewed paper on the

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