Energy & Environment

Jessica Lilly / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Four years after an explosion at the Upper Big Branch killed 29 miners and injured two others, an investigation by U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin continues to examine the practices of executives at then-owner Massey Energy. The mine’s current operator, Alpha Natural Resources, has established Running Right, a leadership academy focused on empowering miners to address safety concerns.

Ben Adducchio / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

It's dark. It's damp. It's your basement, or crawl space. And for some people in Clarksburg, it's a labor of love to go down there and find ways to improve energy efficiency.

Basement Systems of West Virginia does work to improve the energy efficiency of homes by encapsulating crawl spaces. That means they take materials, similar to pool liner, and other things to create what they call “clean spaces.”

It’s their hope to improve conditioning and energy efficiency in these dim, dark places.

As Andrea Lannom of the The Charleston Daily Mail reports, Freedom Industries--the company embroiled in bankruptcy proceedings following January's Elk River chemical spill--made more money in February than they anticipated.

Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling just kicked off what will be a month-long celebration of all-things Appalachia. “Celebrate Appalachia” is the name of the series of lectures and events.

Linda Wertheimer talks to Evan Osnos about his New Yorker piece in which he explores how the coal industry has become a political player in the state, and what that could mean for future regulation.

Mine Safety and Health Administration

Friends and families of victims of a West Virginia mine explosion four years ago are meeting to remember their lost loved ones.
A gathering for those affected by the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster will take place Wednesday afternoon in front of the federal courthouse in Charleston. Saturday is the four-year anniversary of the explosion that killed 29 miners.

Is the Water Safe Yet?

Mar 31, 2014

In this piece from The Atlantic, Marin Cogan details how little was (and still is) known about MCHM, the chemical spilled into the Elk River by Freedom Industries on January 9 and affected the drinking water of West Virginians across nine counties. The story also highlights failures in policy--from state and federal agencies--such as the Department of Environmental Protection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Evan Osnos of The New Yorker runs through the timeline of January's chemical spill into the Elk River by Freedom Industries, the state's reaction to the situation, and how industry and politics played a part in the decades leading up to the spill as well as in the aftermath.

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Freedom Industries

A judge has dismissed a case that challenged a wastewater permit at a Putnam County landfill after state regulators granted a company's request to end the transport of the wastewater from a Charleston chemical spill.

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib dismissed the case Friday.

Dave Mistich / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Taxpayer-funded researchers say the 10 West Virginia homes they tested each contained traces of a chemical that spilled into their water supply in January.
In samples taken Feb. 11-18, chemical remnants were generally about 675 times less concentrated than the federal safe drinking level for the chemical in water. The independent WV TAP group discussed results Friday at West Virginia State University.

Coal Exports Drop

Mar 28, 2014
Robb Kendrick / National Geographic

Government data shows a significant drop in coal exports contributed to a 26 percent decline in West Virginia's overall exports last year.

U.S. Census figures cited by the state show total exports of $8.4 billion last year, compared with $11.3 billion in 2012.

Coal remained West Virginia's top export despite falling 40 percent in 2013 to $4.4 billion from $7.4 billion. Non-coal exports grew by $47 million to $3.9 billion.

Despite the overall drop, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin says state exports contributed greatly to the state's economic growth in 2013.

West Virginia American Water

West Virginia American Water will begin changing the water filters that were in place during the Jan. 9 chemical spill that contaminated drinking water for more than 300,000 people.

Water company spokeswoman Laura Jordan said the process will begin on Monday and may take eight weeks or longer. She says only two of their 16 filters can be changed each week while maintaining water service.

Energy Corporation of America

Energy Corporation of America still hasn’t made a final decision on whether to turn a natural gas well near Decker’s Creek in northern West Virginia into an underground injection well.

ECA hasn’t completed all of its investigation, says ECA spokeswoman Jennifer Viewig. ECA has an old well in Preston County near the water body Decker’s Creek. It’s looking to turn that site into what would be a Class Two Underground Injection Well. That means it would accept brine water and fluids from natural gas drilling operations and inject it into the ground there.

Department of Environmental Protection

Updated Thursday March 27, 2014 at 10:53 p.m.

West Virginia America Water says test results of foam samples taken earlier today from the Elk River are complete. As the company suspected in a release earlier today, the completed test results "indicate no changes to source water quality and no characteristics outside of typical water quality parameters."

The company manages an intake for 30,000 residents in Charleston and surrounding areas that lost access to clean tap water after a chemical spill contaminated the Elk River on January 9.

In previous statements West Virginia American Water pointed out  that foam can naturally occur in organic waterways.

“After receiving notification of a foam on the Elk River this morning, and with the health and safety of our customers as our number one priority, we made the decision to shut down the plant’s raw water intake pumps for approximately two hours until more information could be gathered,” President Jeff McIntyre said in a release late Thursday night.

“System conditions today allowed for the plant to maintain adequate water storage during this brief time, which was a very different circumstance than on the day of the Freedom Industries spill. At that time, the decision to maintain water service to customers for firefighting and basic sanitation was the best decision for the communities we serve.”

Updated Thursday March 27, 2014 at 6:16 p.m.

The 35th Civil Support Team of the West Virginia National Guard Thursday afternoon received a sample of the foam on the Elk River drawn by the Department of Environmental Protection.

Lawrence Messina of Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety said the CST tested the sample with a gas chromatography–mass spectrometry instrument to identify whether the foam contained man-made substances.

"Analysis of the chromatograph did not show any compounds present in the sample," said Messina in an email.


A worker at Airgas USA's former facility in Putnam County is suing the company over a 2013 explosion that he says left him permanently injured.
William Lee Parrigan's lawsuit alleges that the company exposed him to an unsafe working condition.
The lawsuit claims the Winfield resident was required to "bleed out" tanks containing acetylene gas without attaching any cyclinders to a manifold system. The lawsuit says this would have prevented the release of the flammable gas into the atmosphere.

David M. Mistich

Antero Resources says it will be the anchor ethane supplier for a proposed cracker plant in West Virginia.
Antero announced an agreement on Wednesday to provide 30,000 barrels of ethane a day to the plant, if it's built.
Brazilian petrochemical giant Odebrecht is exploring the possibility of building the ethane cracker and three polyethylene plants in Wood County. The complex would be known as Ascent, which stands for Appalachian Shale Cracker Enterprise.

Nikthestoned / wikimedia Commons

A Virginia Tech study says a chemical that spilled into 300,000 West Virginians' water supply in January stops smelling at a level 47 times stronger than other researchers found.
The group that discovered the lower chemical odor level questioned the Virginia Tech team's methods.
The Virginia Tech group said in a news release that it detected the chemical in the air with specialized instruments. It used a gas law to calculate the corresponding odor threshold in water.

Appalachian Studies Association

About 800 people are expected to attend a conference at Marshall University in Huntington Friday through Sunday for the 37th Annual Appalachian Studies Conference.

Marshall University Education Professor and conference organizer Linda Spatig says the theme is New Appalachia: Known Realities and Imagined Possibilities.

An Ohio-based coal operator is suing the head of the Environmental Protection Agency over the agency's administration and enforcement of the Clean Air Act.
Murray Energy alleges in its lawsuit that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has failed to comply with the law's requirement to evaluate the potential impact of the agency's regulatory actions on employment.

West Virginia American Water

Updated Tuesday, March 25 at 1:15 p.m.: 

Test results from sampling conducted by the National Guard in and around West Virginia American Water's Elk River plant indicate trace levels of MCHM are being added to the water supply during the filtering process. The results come from 42 samples collected--from various stages of the water treatment process--from Friday, March 21 at 6 p.m. through Saturday, March 22 at  6 a.m.

Results indicate raw water from the Elk River and settled water from post clarifiers (an early stage in the treatment process)--both east and west--are returning non-detectable levels of MCHM. However, results from east and west filters range from non-detectable levels to 0.60 parts per billion (ppb). Results from the finished samples, which have completed all stages of the treatment process, range from non-detectable levels to 0.53 ppb.

Department of Environmental Protection, DEP
Department of Environmental Protection

The state Department of Environmental Protection is being asked to void a permit that allowed wastewater to be transported from the site of a Charleston chemical spill to a Putnam County landfill.
The Charleston Gazette reports the county and the city of Hurricane made the request last week.
Hurricane Mayor Scott Edwards says he wasn't told about Waste Management's plan to dump the material mixed with sawdust at the Disposal Services landfill. The water contains traces of the crude MCHM that spilled Jan. 9, contaminating 300,000 people's drinking water for days.   

Associated Press

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a coal company fighting to reinstate a water pollution permit for a massive West Virginia strip mine.

The justices say they will not disturb a federal appeals court ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency acted within its authority in 2011 when it retroactively vetoed a permit issued four years earlier by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

St. Louis-based Arch Coal Inc. and its Mingo Logan Coal Co. subsidiary challenged the appellate ruling concerning the mountaintop removal coal mine in West  Logan County.

"PBC Judicial Forum"
Rick Neuhoff / Flickr

A former mine boss is asking a federal appeals court to toss out his conviction for his actions at the West Virginia mine where an explosion killed 29 miners in 2010. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been heavily criticized in their response to the January 9 spill by Freedom Industries and the water crisis that followed. Dr. Tanja Popvic, who represented the CDC in West Virginia at a news briefing in February, has resigned from her post as director of the federal agency's National Center for Environmental Health. Ken Ward of The Charleston Gazette breaks down Popvic's and the CDC's presence here post-spill and the response to her resignation.

National Transportation Safety Board

NiSource Inc. and two subsidiaries are being sued by two Sissonville property owners over a 2012 natural gas pipeline rupture and explosion.
John Hampton Tinney and his sister, Elizabeth Tinney Garten, allege in their lawsuit that the explosion rendered their property "valueless" and ruined their chances to sell it.

Kentucky could get its first Muslim lawmaker if one candidate is successful.

So what do folks in Bobtown, Pa., really think of those pizza gift certificates?

Pickens, W.Va., celebrates the maple syrup harvest.

And some West Virginia rocket boys put their skills to a test.

natural gas, fracking

A new report from a nonpartisan office of the Pennsylvania Legislature says its state's taxes on the natural gas drilling boom are among the lowest in the nation.

The figures released Thursday by the Independent Fiscal Office found that Pennsylvania is the only state with significant production that doesn't impose a severance tax based on the volume of gas produced.

A coal company has been cited by federal mining regulators for the November 2012 collapse of a Harrison County coal slurry impoundment that left a miner dead.
Dozer operator Markel Koon of Shinnstown and his machine were swept into the impoundment when an embankment collapsed at the Robinson Run Mine's Nolan Round impoundment near Lumberport. He was 58.

In this report form Ken Ward of The Charleston Gazette, West Virginia American Water president Jeff McIntyre defends his company's actions following the Jan. 9 spill into the Elk River by Freedom Industries. The water company has yet to change filters at their water treatment plant, although they say work begins on that project April 1 to address public concerns.