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Thu, 2014-11-13 14:59Mike Gaworecki
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Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship Indicted Over 2010 Mine Disaster

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has been indicted on conspiracy and fraud charges for his role in the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia that killed 29 workers.

According to a statement by US Attorney Booth Goodwin of the Southern District of West Virginia: “The indictment charges Blankenship with conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and securities fraud.” You can read the full indictment online.

Blankenship has long been a controversial figure. News of the indictment validates charges that have been made against him by environmentalists for years, not only over the poor safety and environmental record of Massey Energy but also his union busting tactics, his opposition to government regulations on extractive industries, and his outspoken belief that climate change does not exist.

Blankenship donated to just one federal candidate in this year's midterm elections: future Senate Environment Committee Chairman James Inhofe, who infamously called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” (h/t Lee Fang).

Wed, 2014-10-22 13:00Farron Cousins
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New Short Film Exposes The Human Cost Of Coal Ash Dumping

The threats posed by coal ash are well known today, but not too long ago, the dangers of coal ash disposal were a dirty energy secret.

For a large section of residents in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, the dangers of coal ash were kept a secret, and in their place the dirty energy industry fed them promises of a luscious, green and blue landscape that they could enjoy with their families. All they had to do was sign off on a coal ash dump in their area.

The energy company was First Energy, and a new short film by EarthJustice exposes the lies and the resulting impacts that their coal ash dump had on local communities.

The whole film, titled “Little Blue: A Broken Promise,” can be viewed here:

Thu, 2014-09-25 07:00Farron Cousins
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West Virginia Officials Worried Freedom Industries Skimping On Chemical Spill Cleanup

In early January of this year, a chemical storage facility run by Freedom Industries ruptured and leaked thousands of gallons of chemicals into West Virginia’s Elk River. The leak occurred less than 2 miles from a water treatment plant that serves as many as 300,000 nearby residents. 

Almost 9 months after the spill occurred, West Virginia officials are concerned that Freedom Industries is dragging their feet on the cleanup.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said that the company needs to be focused on actually cleaning up the spill instead of focusing on entering a “voluntary” remediation program.

The comments came a few days after Freedom Industries submitted an updated remediation proposal to the DEP outlining their plan to start digging and testing soil and water samples in the future. To date, the company has not even finished demolishing their outdated and dangerous storage tanks that caused the spill in the first place. 

Mon, 2014-06-02 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Loopholes Enable Industry to Evade Rules on Dumping Radioactive Fracking Waste

As the drilling rush proceeds at a fast pace in Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale, nearby states have confronted a steady flow of toxic waste produced by the industry. One of Pennsylvania's most active drilling companies, Range Resources, attempted on Tuesday to quietly ship tons of radioactive sludge, rejected by a local landfill, to one in nearby West Virginia where radioactivity rules are still pending. It was only stopped when local media reports brought the attempted dumping to light.

“We are still seeking information about what happened at the Pennsylvania landfill two months ago when the waste was rejected, and about the radiation test results the company received from the lab,” Kelly Gillenwater, a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which had tracked the waste after it was rejected by a Chartiers, PA landfill because it was too radioactive. “For now this is still under investigation.”

It's one of a series of incidents involving the disposal of fracking's radioactive waste. Collectively these incidents illustrate how a loophole for the oil and gas industry in federal hazardous waste laws has left state regulators struggling to prevent the industry from disposing its radioactive waste in dangerous ways.

Thu, 2014-04-17 05:00Sharon Kelly
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After Over a Decade of Fracking, Oversight of Industry's Radioactive Waste Still Lacking

It has been roughly twelve years since fracking launched the great shale rush in the U.S. and the biggest problem with the technology — how to safely dispose of the enormous quantities of toxic waste generated — remains unsolved.

In particular, regulators have struggled to fully understand or police the hazards posed by radioactivity found in fracking waste.

The most common form of radioactivity in shale waste comes from radium-226, which happens also to be an isotope that takes the longest to decay. To be exact, radium-226’s half-life of roughly 1,600 years means that well over a millennium and a half from now, more than half of the radium that fracking brings to the surface today will still be emitting dangerous radioactive particles.

Concern about the waste has taken on renewed urgency in light of a detailed report published in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), a peer-reviewed scientific journal which is backed by the National Institutes of Health. The study concluded that worrisome and extensive gaps in federal and state oversight of this radioactivity problem still persist.

At the federal level, radioactive oil and gas waste is exempt from nearly all the regulatory processes the general public might expect would govern it,” the researchers wrote. “State laws are a patchwork.’”

This is not an entirely new finding. Several years ago, a New York Times investigative piece highlighted how the oil and gas industry routinely dumped radium-laced waste water into rivers. State regulators in Pennsylvania and the oil and gas industry adamantly denied there was a problem.

So what's changed? The recent academic study concludes that even several years later, worrisome oversight lapses remain. As such, the researchers wrote, there is continuing reason for concern.

We are troubled by people drinking water that [could potentially have] radium-226 in it,” David Brown, a public health toxicologist with the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, told the researchers (insert in original). “When somebody calls us and says ‘is it safe to drink our water,’ the answer is ‘I don’t know.’”

Fri, 2014-01-31 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Amid Calls for EPA to Reopen Fracking Investigations, States Confirm Contaminated Groundwater

Republican Sen. James Inhofe said it. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said it. Even former Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson said it.

For over a decade, oil and gas executives and the policy makers who support them have repeated a single bold claim: there has never been a single documented case where fracking contaminated groundwater. 

But a blockbuster investigative report by the Associated Press offered up new evidence earlier this month that the shale industry’s keystone environmental claim is simply not true.

Multiple states confirmed that drilling and fracking contaminated groundwater supplies, the investigation found. There have been thousands of complaints from people living near drilling over the past decade, the AP reported, and three out of the four states from which the AP obtained documents confirmed multiple instances where oil and gas companies contaminated groundwater.

Out of the four states the AP obtained documents from, only Texas reported no confirmed oil and gas-related groundwater contamination. But one high-profile incident in Texas has again come under scrutiny, as a report quietly released by the Obama administration on Christmas Eve has called the adequacy of the state’s investigation into question.

On Monday, over 200 environmental groups called on President Obama to reopen the federal investigations into that case and others in Pennsylvania and in Wyoming, and to personally meet with people whose drinking water supplies have been polluted.

“The previously closed EPA investigation into these matters must be re-opened,” said the letter, sent the day before Mr. Obama's State of the Union address. “These three are among a growing number of cases of water contamination linked to drilling and fracking, and a significant and rapidly growing body of scientific evidence showing the harms drilling and fracking pose to public health and the environment.”

Tue, 2014-01-21 13:17Guest
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West Virginian Communities Still In Need After Coal Chemical Spill

This is a guest post by Jesse Coleman, cross-posted from Greenpeace USA blogs

On January 9th, Freedom Industries, a company that stores chemicals for the coal industry, spilled 7,500 gallons of crude Methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM), a little known, little understood compound into the Elk river. The spill occurred one mile upriver from the water intake that supplies tap water for all of West Virginia's capital city of Charleston.

The thick oily chemical was pumped through the water system and into homes and businesses throughout the area, causing vomiting, skin problems, and diarrhea. Now, nearly two weeks since the disaster was discovered, the water has been deemed “safe to drink,” though water from the tap still releases a sickly sweet chemical odor, especially when heated.

Pregnant women and children are still advised to drink bottled water, but very few people in the affected area are interested in drinking from the tap, with child or not. The tremendous need for potable water has led to the creation of the West Virginia Clean Water Hub, a community led effort to provide the people of Charleston and the outlying areas with bottled water, a need that government agencies have largely ignored. Sign this petition to demand justice for people whose water has been poisoned.
  

Sun, 2014-01-19 16:34Farron Cousins
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West Virginia Polluter Freedom Industries Files For Bankruptcy To Halt Lawsuits

Freedom Industries, the company that recently leaked thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals into the Elk River in West Virginia, quietly filed for bankruptcy this past Friday to shield themselves from the onslaught of lawsuits filed against the company.

The current owner of Freedom Industries, J. Clifford Forrest, took control of the company about a week before the chemical spill occurred, and only a week later filed for bankruptcy.  According to the filing, the company owes more than $3.6 million to creditors (a fact that was known when Forrest bought the company in late December). 

What Forrest couldn’t have known at the time was that he was sitting on a time bomb, and that his newly purchased company had been skirting safety regulations and vital equipment upgrades in an effort to save a few bucks in the short term. 

The company is now facing an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, in addition to at least 20 separate lawsuits from residents. The number of lawsuits is expected to rise, as the chemicals spill is estimated to have poisoned at least one-sixth of West Virginia’s entire water supply.

But Forrest isn’t the victim in this case. His decision to file for bankruptcy protection had nothing to do with the prior debts that the company owed, and everything to do with preventing the millions of dollars his firm will be forced to pay out in lawsuit settlements. The bankruptcy filing will effectively temporarily “stay” the lawsuits, which prevents any payments from being made.

Forrest knew this, and this is why he had his company file bankruptcy. But this doesn’t mean that the company is no longer in business. To the contrary, Raw Story has revealed that Forrest is also the owner of a brand new firm called Mountaineer Funding LLC, which is funding the company to the tune of $5 million (more than enough to handle their current, non-lawsuit liabilities). So the liabilities of Freedom Industries can be handled by Forrest’s funding firm, as can the daily operations, but the lawsuits are now being held in limbo since Freedom Industries is technically “bankrupt.”

Sat, 2014-01-11 09:57Farron Cousins
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Coal Chemicals Taint Water Supply of 300,000 In West Virginia, Hundreds Sickened

Early Thursday, a chemical spill along West Virginia’s Elk River contaminated the tap water of as many as 300,000 West Virginia residents across nine West Virginia counties. The chemical spill occurred at a storage facility for Freedom Industries less than two miles from a major water treatment plant.

Freedom Industries produces chemicals that are used widely in mining and steel production.

The leaking storage tank contained the chemical 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol which is used to “treat” coal supplies before they are shipped for burning. According to ThinkProgress, the chemical “severe burning in throat, severe eye irritation, non-stop vomiting, trouble breathing or severe skin irritation such as skin blistering.”

According to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), between 2,000 and 5,000 gallons of the toxic chemical made its way into the water supply. 

Residents in the area were immediately warned to stop using tap water, out of fear that the chemicals could severely harm anyone who consumed them. Chemical levels have fallen in the two days since the spill, but the ban remains in effect as the levels in the water are still far too dangerous for residents.

As of Friday, according to The Guardian, at least 670 people had called into the poison control center with reports of vomiting, nausea, skin irritation, and other symptoms. 

Fri, 2013-01-18 14:52Laurel Whitney
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Thousands of Miners' Benefits In Jeopardy As Patriot Coal Claims Bankruptcy

On January 29, Patriot Coal Co. will begin Chapter 11 bankruptcy hearings in St. Louis, MO claiming that it's become a “victim of the markets” and can no longer pay its debts. These “debts” include millions of dollars of retiree health benefits. If the company goes under, the benefits may go along with it.

That's why the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) is suing. Filed back in October, the lawsuit cites the Employee Retirement and Income Securities Act, which states that coal companies must provide health insurance for retired miners.

However, the UMWA isn't suing Patriot Coal.

Most of the 10,000 workers in the class action lawsuit have never actually worked for Patriot. They actually put in their time (many with upwards of 30 years of service) with Peabody Energy Corp. and Arch Coal Inc. The UMWA contends that Peabody and Arch sold off the benefits to a company that was doomed to fail, therefore getting rid of the debt and leaving thousands without health insurance.

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