Massey wins some ‘valley fill’ respite; but what of 2008?

Valley fill is a much debated mining method in the US, causing considerable controversy and setting some sections of local communities and NGOs against coal mining companies. During surface mining, layers of rock are removed to access coal seams. Most of the rock is placed back in the mined areas during reclamation, but some excess rock must be placed in adjacent hollows, creating what are called ‘valley fills’. These valley fills, which are necessary to conduct surface mining, typically cover very small stream channels that often contain no water. The US Army Corps of Engineers issues permits for the impacts to these fill areas.

Massey Energy reports it “was pleased to learn [on April 17] that a federal court in West Virginia stayed parts of a March 23, 2007 ruling that rescinded four Massey Energy fill permits.” On March 23, a federal court in West Virginia rescinded four permits issued by the Corps of Engineers for the Camp Branch mine in Logan County, the Black Castle Contour operation in Boone County, the Republic No. 2 operation in Kanawha County and the Laxare East operation in Boone County. The ruling resulted in the temporary suspension of work at the Camp Branch mine, where 66 miners were put out of work.

On April 17, the federal court stayed parts of its March 23 ruling by allowing work to continue in fills that were already under construction. As a result of this ruling, the Camp Branch mine can resume mining and the 66 miners there can return to work. The ruling will also allow mining to continue at the Black Castle Contour and Republic Energy operations. Massey believes all three operations will be able to operate with minimal impacts through 2007. The court did not grant relief to the Laxare East operation because it is not currently operating in any impacted fills, but the court advised that it would likely grant relief if the company wants to resume operations there. Massey is continuing to assess the path forward for 2008 and beyond and is evaluating its many options to mine coal through surface, highwall and underground mining methods.

"We are certainly pleased that our miners who were out of work as a result of the original ruling are now able to return to work and continue providing for their families," said Don L. Blankenship, Chairman and CEO. "We are also pleased to be able to continue supplying our customers the energy they need and to continue providing jobs and other substantial economic benefits to the communities where we operate."

While the March 23 ruling did not directly impact other Massey Energy permits, Blankenship expressed the need for a predictable and dependable permitting process. "Our nation’s energy independence and national security depend upon coal," said Blankenship. "We need a predictable process for obtaining the permits that allow us to provide reliable service to our customers and steady employment to our miners while at the same time playing a role in the critically important development of American-produced energy."

Massey says it agrees with the Government that the current, very detailed permitting process is more than sufficient to protect the environment and notes that the process has survived similar challenges by the same environmental groups that brought the current litigation. The company plans to continue working with the professionals at the state and federal environmental agencies to address the ever-changing permitting issues raised by the environmental litigators. "We have the best engineers and environmental personnel available," said Blankenship, "and we have confidence in our ability to resolve meaningful issues in a manner that is right for the environment and right for those Americans who depend upon coal."

The company has appealed the March 23 ruling to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has rejected similar challenges to the permitting process in the past.

Massey Energy, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, with operations in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, is the fourth largest coal producer by revenue in the USA.