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Technology Could Help WV Deal With Coal Sludge

December 15, 2010

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - A change in technology could help solve a big problem in the coalfields. West Virginia has 150 coal slurry impoundments, full of waste left over from "cleaning" coal to get it ready to sell. And the sludge not stored there is sometimes injected underground, where it can contaminate well water. However, the State Legislature could outlaw slurry injection in the next session.

Delegate Mike Manypenny (D-Taylor) says technology exists that could hugely reduce the amount of slurry headed for impoundments or injection, and produce more usable coal in the process.

"Extracting easily accessible coal from existing impoundments, or doing a closed loop system from these mines that are producing slurry actively, right now."

Retired coal miner Joe Stanley works with the Sludge Safety Project, an environmental group. He explains the new technology recycles the water and produces a fraction of the waste.

"After that coal is washed and cleaned, the water is reused to process more coal. What would be left over would be a dry clay, and then that would be stored in a lined landfill."

Stanley says the technology means old impoundments could end up producing more coal, and very profitably.

"Approximately $7 per ton, which they would receive – at today's current price – about $60 per ton for steam coal, and for metallurgical coal, as much as $300 per ton."

The industry had supported slurry injection, but Mannypenny says coal companies may soon decide that the new technology makes it obsolete.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV