Consol proposed a new method for dealing with damaged streams. The DEP hasn't approved it yet.




Consol Energy Inc. has idled a longwall machine at its Bailey Mine after failing to receive an environmental permit in time to start slicing coal from the ground underneath a portion of Polen Run.

For months, machines underground have been racing against a series of legal challenges filed by two environmental groups that object to how the activity of Cecil-based company already has and might continue to impact trout fisheries around Ryerson Station State Park in Greene County.

Consol’s idling of the longwall machine on Sept. 1 and move to furlough 303 miners at Bailey on Monday is the result of the latest curveball that came in mid-August via a decision by the Environmental Hearing Board. 

The board, whose judges rule on appeals to the actions of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, partially sided with the Sierra Club and the Center for Coalfield Justice.

It said the DEP should not have granted Consol a permit to longwall mine under a different section of Polen Run because the impact of the mining and the strategy that the company proposed for dealing with potential damage to the stream — putting down an impermeable liner to avoid water being lost to cracks — amounted to destroying the stream and building a new one.

On the heels of that decision, Consol proposed a new method — a polyurethane spray that the company called “minimally-invasive, localized sealant technology.”

That would be applied in the event that traditional ways to deal with the loss of stream flow, like grouting cracks created by subsidence, don’t work. Consol predicts the chances of having to use the new method are “less than 1 percent.”

The DEP, which has been reviewing this new method since Consol proposed it on Aug. 25, noted that the material is “conventionally used to coat metal tanks, pipelines, and cement containers.”

The environmental agency has not yet approved the method.

“This is the first time in the 35-year history of the Bailey Complex that the company has failed to receive a needed permit in a timely manner,” Consol said in a statement on Monday, also noting that the company is “in communication with Gov. Wolf's office and our local elected officials.”

Even without the disrupting Environmental Hearing Board’s decision, Consol did not yet have a permit to longwall mine under this portion of Polen Run.

Its application to do so was accepted by the DEP for review on May 11 and a public hearing was held on July 26. By Aug. 15, the DEP had not yet granted the approval.

Some of the same miners who were left without work on Monday were also furloughed in February after the Environmental Hearing Board sided with the Sierra Club and the Center for Coalfield Justice on another appeal and restricted Consol’s activity under a portion of another trout fishery, Kent Run. In that case, the company returned its 200 laid off workers to work within a few weeks.

Anya Litvak: alitvak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455.

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