UPDT: Consol in full operation Tues.; miner search continues - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

UPDATE: Robinson Run in full operation Tues.; miner search continues

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Images taken Nov. 29 by the state Department of Environmental Protection; mark-up by DEP shows area of Friday's slide. Images taken Nov. 29 by the state Department of Environmental Protection; mark-up by DEP shows area of Friday's slide.

Update 6 p.m. Monday; previous updates and original story below. 

After suspending operations through the weekend, Consol Energy resumed partial operations at midnight at its Harrison County Robinson Run mine where a miner was trapped in a coal slurry impoundment on Friday.

Full operations begin again Tuesday morning, spokesperson Lynn Seay said.

"Pending approval from (the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration), we anticipate that all 605 employees will continue to work and full operations will resume Tuesday, in compliance with the state and federal agencies that govern our West Virginia coal operations," Seay wrote in an email update.

"The decision to shift towards full operations at our Robinson Run mine will not interfere with the impending recovery efforts," Seay wrote.

Investigation into the cause of the accident also will begin Tuesday morning, she said.

Consol expects to provide details on the company's recovery plan on Wednesday.

Update 4 p.m. Monday; previous updates and original story below.

Dredging began at 1:30 today in the work to recover the miner and bulldozer that have been at the bottom of a Consol Energy coal slurry impoundment since Friday.

The dredging will "permit access of barges," according to federal Mine Safety and Health Administration spokesperson Amy Louviere. Four barges are on site.

"The company is continuing to evaluate the best method to reach the bull dozer safely and determine its orientation (upright, on its side or upside down)," Louviere wrote in a brief email update.

MSHA's mobile command vehicle has arrived at the site, Louviere said. The command center will serve as a central location for meetings, plan review and video conferencing.


Update 4:30 p.m. Sunday; previous updates and original story below.

Searchers have a new plan following the recognition earlier Dec. 2 that the slurry in the Consol Harrison County impoundment where a miner has been missing since Friday is too thick for diving.

Recovery personnel continue to probe the area with rods to better locate the bulldozer the miner was inside when a section of embankment collapsed, federal Mine Safety and Health Administration spokesperson Amy Louviere said.

"It appears that the bulldozer may not be as deep as originally thought, and crews are trying to outline and confirm that it is about 25 to 35 feet below the surface," Louviere said.

"Plans are under way to use sheet pilings and surround and isolate the dozer. Once that is completed, the hope is that divers will be able to enter the area to locate the missing dozer operator."

A family briefing was conducted at midday, but the name of the missing miner and the two others who were rescued from the slurry impoundment on Friday have not yet been released.


Update 11 a.m. Sunday; previous updates and original story below.

Search crews preparing to dive in the Consol Energy Harrison County coal slurry impoundment to find a miner missing since Friday afternoon have decided the slurry is too thick.

"Diving isn't likely going to happen today," said federal Mine Safety and Health Administration spokesperson Amy Louviere in a 10:45 a.m. Sunday update, following a Saturday night update saying diving would begin this morning. "Other options are being considered."

Probing with pipes was to be conducted this morning prior to diving, Louviere said earlier.

Consol has taken platform barges in to work from on the water, she added, and dredges are being assembled for use, although the assembly time will be lengthy.

An additional slurry pump is being installed to handle heavier material, such as sediment.

The missing miner and bulldozer slid into the impoundment with two trucks and two engineers when an embankment under construction internal to the impoundment collapsed around noon on Friday.

The two engineers were rescued Friday afternoon, treated at area hospitals and released.

Louviere confirmed that the miner was in the bulldozer when the impoundment collapsed, so the hope is that when the bulldozer has been located -- and they believe they have located it -- they will find the miner.

The families will be briefed today between noon and 1:00 p.m., according to Louviere.

Update 7:30 a.m. Sunday; previous update and original story below.

The search for the missing Consol miner resumes at 8 a.m. Sunday.

Mine Safety and Health Administration spokesperson Amy Louviere provided a late-night update.

"We pinpointed what we believe to be the dozer," Louviere wrote. This follows an update from Consol Saturday evening saying the bulldozer had been located.

"They are going to take longwall face conveyor chain and attach it to a rope and drop it down to get a depth. We are going to dive at 8 am tomorrow."


Update 9:30 p.m. Saturday; original story below.

A search crew has located a bulldozer that slid into a Consol Energy coal slurry impoundment Friday afternoon, but one miner remains missing.

The bulldozer and missing miner went into the Nolan Run impoundment of the Robinson Run preparation plant with two trucks and two engineers when an internal embankment under construction collapsed around noon on Friday.

The engineers were rescued Friday afternoon and treated at area hospitals.

Consol began draining the impoundment Friday afternoon and search crews, including divers and sonar, searched for the bulldozer and missing miner through midnight Friday and resumed the search at 8 a.m. Saturday.

By midafternoon Saturday, officials determined that the rate at which the large impoundment could be drained was not worthwhile and stopped pumping, according to West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson Kathy Cosco.

The bulldozer was located around 7 p.m., Consol spokesperson Lynn Seay said around 8:30 p.m.. The dive crew was attempting to determine the depth of the dozer and, once that was accomplished, the search would stop for the night and resume Sunday morning.

Federal and state mining officials have been on site with the company and with rescue crews.

The Robinson Run mine remains idle and the company is evaluating resumption of operations on a shift-by-shift basis, Seay said.


Original story:

Consol Energy continued to drain a coal slurry impoundment Saturday where one miner is missing and presumed drowned after a "refuse embankment" collapsed into the structure on Friday.

Search efforts were suspended at midnight Friday and resumed Saturday morning at 8 a.m., according to a 10:30 a.m. update from Consol.

"They include divers on-site and other local rescue squads," Consol spokesperson Lynn Seay wrote in an e-mail update. "Sonar equipment has been brought in to aid in the effort and we continue to lower the water level in the pond to help locate our missing employee."

The draining of the 12-foot-deep impoundment began Friday evening. Neither Consol nor the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has yet said by how much the process has reduced the depth of the water so far.

The missing miner, a bulldozer operator, was on the embankment with two engineers at the Nolan Run impoundment at the company's Robinson Run preparation plant near Lumberport in Harrison County when it collapsed around noon on Friday.

Both engineers were rescued from the slurry, but the dozer operator could not be found.

One of the engineers was transported by ambulance to United Hospital Center in Bridgeport and was treated and released on Friday, according to reports from Consol and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. The other was flown to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown; he was in stable condition Friday evening and CONSOL expected he might be kept overnight for observation.

Names have not yet been released.

A boat was taken out to probe the bottom of the 12-foot-deep impoundment with a rod, MSHA said around 3 p.m., and before 5 p.m. spokesperson Amy Louviere reported that a survey team had been taken in to quadrant the area where the dozer was believed to be and a boat with sonar was getting ready to be launched.

The impoundment is large: the design volume permitted by the West Virginia Department of Environment Protection is 10,400 acre-feet — 3.4 billion gallons, larger than 5,000 regulation Olympic swimming pools.

The typical working volume at this time is less than the design volume, at about 6,000 acre-feet, or under 2 billion gallons, according to WVDEP.

The embankment area that failed is about 200 feet by 200 feet, according to WVDEP spokesperson Kathy Cosco.

In The State Journal's understanding so far, that area, which is being referred to variously as a refuse embankment, a platform and a pad, lies within the largest design boundary of the impoundment and was under construction to create a new, higher lip to accommodate the growing volume of slurry.

Draining is taking place at 1,600 gallons per minute according to a regularly conducted process, according to Cosco.

As the slurry in a coal slurry impoundment settles, she explained, the impoundment is drained down from time to time by releasing the highest fluid into a secondary impoundment. Fluid from that impoundment is filtered, treated and released to Robinson Run according to the conditions of a WVDEP permit.

Cosco emphasized that the failure was internal to the impoundment and that the structure is not in danger of collapsing externally. No evacuations are necessary or anticipated, WVDEP stated Friday evening.

DEP's most recent inspection of the impoundment took place on Oct. 16 and no violations were reported, according to DEP records

The Robinson Run mine will remain idle during the day and afternoon shifts Saturday, Consol's Seay said, and the company will evaluate resumption of operations on a shift-by-shift basis.

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