Environmental groups have once again appealed a state permit allowing Consol to mine beneath a stream inside a state park in Greene County, saying that the plan could cause “significant damage” to the waterway. They are asking a state judge to issue a temporary halt to the mining plan while the case is heard.
The Center for Coalfield Justice and the Sierra Club say that the permit, issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, could damage Polen Run, in a 700-foot long section of the stream that flows through Ryerson Station State Park.
They argue that longwall mining, the technique Consol would use to mine beneath the stream, can cause ground beneath streams to fall in.
When that happens, the stream could lose water through cracks in its streambed, causing damage to aquatic life, water supply, and recreational uses, the groups argue. The DEP permit allows Consol to repair the streambed by grouting cracks with cement.
This is the latest in a series of Consol permits the groups have appealed for mining beneath Polen Run and another stream in the park, Kent Run.
Last year, the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board ruled against DEP and Consol twice, saying that the permits violated state environmental laws.
This time around, Consol says it doesn’t predict any damage to the stream, based on data it’s collected near the site. Even if it does damage the streambed, the company said it can seal any cracks it causes.
But Veronica Coptis, executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, says she the DEP’s decision to allow the permit puts the stream at risk.
“Nothing has changed in the geology of this stream, nothing has changed in the technique of mining, and we still believe these same predictions (of stream damage) will hold true,” Coptis said.
“We could see irreparable damage done to a stream that is owned by every resident in the state and is on our public land, and the department has a constitutional responsibility to protect our public resources they’re failing here.”
At issue are the surface impacts of longwall mining, a method of coal removal that shears off long sections of rock. The technique can cause the ground above it to fall in, or subside, which can cause problems for buildings and waterways on the surface.
In late 2016, the environmental groups appealed a permit for longwall mining beneath the 3L section of Consol’s Bailey Mine East Expansion. The permit allowed the company to mine under two streams: Kent Run and Polen Run.
A judge halted mining within 100 feet of the 3L section of Kent Run. The appeal related to Polen Run was dismissed, because the company had already undermined that stream by the time a hearing was held.
Consol eventually settled with the groups, agreeing not to conduct longwall mining beneath the stream in the 3L section, and instead use a less intensive mining technique.
In August, the EHB judges overturned another permit issued by DEP, saying that the permit would allow the company to “essentially destroy the existing stream channel and stream banks and rebuild it from scratch.”
Despite the previous cases, the DEP issued the new permit March 7, allowing Consol to use longwall mining in another section of the mine, the 5L panel, beneath Polen Run.
This time around, Consol said it didn’t anticipate subsidence in the stream, even though other stream beds in the area have subsided after longwall mining. It based this analysis on specific geology and groundwater data it had collected near the projected mining site.
And even if subsidence happened, Consol “would restore streamflow to a normal range of conditions using the existing intervention measures which have been proven effective,” according to Consol’s permit application.
Those measures include grouting any cracks that develop in the streambed with cement.
DEP spokeswoman Lauren Fraley said in an email that the agency “determined that there will not be any permanent impacts to Polen Run, based on the geology and geography of the stream.”
If there were impacts, Fraley said, “the permit authorizes, and Consol is required to employ, mitigation techniques to prevent any permanent loss of flow to Polen Run. Those mitigation techniques have been successfully employed at other streams undermined by Consol at the Bailey Mine.”
Chris Novak, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources, which oversees Ryerson Station State Park, said in an email the agency “has worked closely with DEP to ensure the protection of this valuable resource” and was “confident in DEP’s ability to uphold the permit conditions.”
However, DCNR’s Director of Parks John S. Hallas told DEP officials in a January letter, he didn’t think Consol’s data supported the company’s conclusion “that hydrogeologic impacts are not predicted in Polen Run 5L and, if flow loss were to occur, it would be temporary.” He wrote the company’s data “do not meet any scientifically accepted standard for concluding that there will be no impacts from mining.”
Consol did not respond to a request for comment.
Coptis said she expects an Environmental Hearing Board judge to decide on whether to issue a temporary halt to the mining plan within the next few days.
This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WESA, WITF and WHYY.