A Pennsylvania judge ordered CONSOL Energy Inc. on Jan. 24 to halt longwall mining within 100 feet of a stream in a state park, pending a ruling on a challenge from environmental groups.
The ruling, by Judge Steven Beckman of Pennsylvania's Environmental Hearing Board, allows CONSOL to continue longwall mining inside the park, but it establishes a 100-foot buffer around the Kent Run stream.
The Center for Coalfield Justice and the Sierra Club are appealing a permit revision granted to CONSOL in December 2016 to expand its Bailey coal mining complex in Ryerson Station State Park in Greene County. The revision allows CONSOL to conduct full extraction mining beneath the stream.
The environmental groups stated in their appeal that undermining the stream would cause subsidence-related flow loss that would eliminate its aquatic life, water supply and recreational uses.
"We are thrilled that the Environmental Hearing Board halted destructive longwall mining underneath Kent Run inside of Ryerson Station State Park," Patrick Grenter, executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, said in a statement. "Based on the hearing, it was clear CONSOL was intent on operating without any consideration for Ryerson or the thousands of local residents who use it every year."
Jimmy Brock, CEO of CNX Coal Resources LP, which operates the Bailey complex for CONSOL, told S&P Global Market Intelligence, "This is a case of the Environmental Hearing Board attempting to legislate misguided public policy that has the potential to affect thousands of local jobs. It represents a dangerous precedent that could have real-world consequences. This decision is patently wrong; we will aggressively appeal it and continue to protect our right to compliantly operate under the terms of the permit."
In a Jan. 20 filing, CONSOL argued the 100-foot buffer would render 360,000 tons of coal unrecoverable, costing the company about $15.3 million. It also would cause "significant operational disruption, substantial operational difficulties in moving the longwall equipment, possible additional MSHA plan approvals, additional risks to workers, the loss of bonus income to workers, [and] the possible need to lay off workers."
"CONSOL really has no one to blame but itself by assuming they would be allowed to freely mine in the park and illegally destroy the best remaining water sources," Tom Schuster of the Sierra Club said in a statement.
Beckman also denied CONSOL's request that the green groups post a multimillion-dollar bond to protect the company from any financial loss resulting from court action.