The Brushy Fork Sludge Dam

The January 2010 tree-sit shut down blasting on the Bee Tree Strip Mine in close proximity to the Brushy Fork Sludge Impoundment. The Brushy Fork Impoundment is the tallest earthen dam in the Western Hemisphere, and sits upstream of several towns in the Coal River Valley.

History of the Brushy Fork Impoundment

  • The permit for the Brushy Fork Sludge Impoundment was granted in 1995. Several public meetings with the West Virginia DEP took place in 1999 and 2000 due to community concerns about the size of the dam, its structural integrity, and the evacuation plan in case of failure.
  • Despite these concerns, Massey Energy, under subsidiary company Marfork Coal, built the impoundment and has been granted numerous incidental boundary revisions to increase the size of the dam from the original 5 to 9.8 billion gallons.
  • As of December 2010, at least 5.5 billion gallons of sludge are currently impounded. Brushy Fork, the tallest dam in the Western Hemisphere, sits upstream of several towns in the Coal River Valley.

The Brushy Fork is Not Structurally Sound

  • Brushy Fork was built above abandoned underground mines and natural gas lines.
  • In 1999 the Ohio Environmental Coalition (OVEC) hired hydrologist Rick Eades to investigate Brushy Fork. He found that there was less than 200 feet separating the abandoned Eagle coal seam and the dam as well as the fact that 9 pillars supporting the roof of the mine had a safety factor of less than 1.5 (a safety factor of 1 suggests the pillar will fail). He reported that it was “highly unlikely that these pillars were designed to not only support the overburden but also over 400 feet of compacted coal waste, or several hundred feet of high density coal slurry.”

Sludge Impoundments Have Breached Before . . .

  • On February 26, 1972, the Buffalo Creek impoundment breached, killing 118 people and leaving 4,000 homeless.
  • The Martin County Sludge Disaster occurred in Kentucky in 2001. Massey Energy was also the owner of that impoundment under the subsidiary company of Martin County Coal. The impoundment broke out into the abandoned mines and flooded the community below it with toxic sludge, polluting over 70 miles of streams and rivers.

What is Coal Slurry?

  • Slurry is the wastewater from washing coal. It contains concentrations of heavy metals as well as chemicals used to wash the coal such as flocculants and surfactants.  Metals in slurry include mercury, lead, arsenic, and chromium. One compound found in flocculants has been known to cause cancer and birth defects.
  • To learn more about slurry and the fight for clean water visit the Sludge Safety Project website.

Strip Mining Near the Brushy Fork Impoundment

  • Marfork Coal is currently mining less than 2000 feet from the dam on the Bee Tree Surface Mine. Marfork has been issued numerous safety violations by the DEP and cited several times for leakage on account of Brushy.
  • On February 5, 2010 – just over a week after the conclusion of the tree-sit – the DEP issued a notice of violation to Marfork for failure of an upstream expansion of the Brushy Fork Impoundment to meet the engineering safety factor of 1.5 required for coal dams.
  • Additional information about the Brushy Fork Impoundment is available here.

Despite the questionable structure of the dam, Marfork has continued to blast on the Bee Tree site without regard for those communities that would be flooded and destroyed if the dam at Brushy Fork were to fail.

One Response to The Brushy Fork Sludge Dam

  1. Pingback: New Data on Dangers of Brushy Fork/Solidarity with Tim DeChristopher | The Marfork Five: Putting Massey on Trial

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s