TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – US coal and natural gas producer Consol Energy has agreed to pay a $5,5-million civil penalty over Clean Water Act violations at six mines in West Virginia, and will spend another $200-million on pollution controls to reduce harmful discharges into streams and rivers.
The company said in a statement it did not admit any liability and that the penalty amount was recognized in its financial statements and will have no impact on 2011 earnings.
The agreement with the US Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is related to an algae bloom in 2009 that killed large quantities of fish and other acquitic life in a tributary of the Monongahela river.
A complaint alleged that discharges of high amounts of chloride and dissolved solids from Consol's Blacksville number 2 and Loveridge operations resulted in the “severe impairment” of acquatic life and created conditions for golden algae to thrive in the creek.
The complaint also alleged that six Consol mines violated pollution discharge limits in the Clean Water Act permits “hundreds of times” over the last four years.
Consol maintains that its operations were not the cause of the algae bloom in Dunkard Creek, and said it took voluntary action to temporarily stop permitted discharges of water from its mines to the creek.
Under the settlement agreement announced on Monday, the company has designed a multi-phase management programme for discharges from its mines to collect the water and remove chlorides and other salts from permitted discharge water.
The new system should be fully operational by May 2013, Consol said.
The treatment plant will be the largest of its kind in Appalachia and capable of treating 3 500 gallons of water a minute.
The treatment will eliminate more than 96-million pounds of total dissolved solids, including over 11-million pounds of chlorine.
“The centerpiece of this settlement – a new advanced wastewater treatment plant – will substantially reduce pollution by keeping nearly 100-million pounds of total dissolved solids, including chloride, from reaching these waterways each year,” EPA regional administrator Shawn M. Garvin said.
Besides the civil penalty and commitment to build the new treatment system, Consol also said it was resolving alleged natural resource damages claims in a cash settlement of $500 000 with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources.
“This agreement will not only avoid pointless litigation, but will also provide resources to the state to enable them to further address stream degradation issues such as poor stream habitat and poorly managed sewage discharges along the creek,” the firm said.
Consol Energy mines coal in Utah, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania.