If you follow coal-related news in West Virginia, then you know about the tragic November 30 coal sludge impoundment failure that claimed the life of a bulldozer operator at a Harrison County, W.Va. coal prep plant.You may also know that OVEC and Coal River Mountain Watch have been working together for years on our Sludge Safety Project, working on health and safety issues surrounding coal sludge injection and coal slurry impoundments. Watchdogging government agencies to make certain they are enforcing laws written to protect workers and communities is part of SSP’s mission.
CRMW’s super-watchdog Rob Goodwin contacted me (note that I was Rob’s second choice for photographer, since most-excellent photographer Paul Corbit Brown was unavailable) to see if I could join him on a flyover of the impoundment to take photographs of the impoundment failure site, photos that will be available to anyone trying to answer questions such as what happened and what other dangers may exist for workers and those living nearby.
Weather and schedules conspired to keep us out of the sky until the afternoon of Friday, December 14 when we were able to board a SouthWings plane in Charleston to head north.
It was a sad, somber flight. The bulldozer operator’s body was still trapped in the impoundment. It was terrifying to imagine what he went through, what his family is still going through. We later learned that just hours after our flight, the body of Markel J. Koon was finally brought to the surface of the impoundment.
Something else we saw from the air added to our somber feelings. For all of us on board, it was our first time seeing some of the impacts of Marcellus Shale gas extraction and processing from the air. We flew over just a couple of the sites that WV Host Farms, the Doddridge County Watershed Association and others had suggested we photograph. (Photos from that part of the flyover will appear in another blog posting.)
Once we were back in the airport, TVs were flashing news of what had happened at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.
It was too much to take in one day.
Below are some photos from the first part of the flyover. Please sign this petition asking President Obama for a moratorium on faulty coal waste dam construction. And here’s a petition to President Obama about the need to talk about gun control.