The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 12, 2013

CONSOL cited by state for coal slurry death

The Associated Press

— CONSOL Energy has been cited by West Virginia mining regulators for the November 2012 embankment collapse of a Harrison County coal slurry impoundment that killed a bulldozer operator.

CONSOL was working to raise the elevation of the Robinson Run Mine’s Nolan Run impoundment near Lumberport when the accident happened. Markel Koon, 58, of Shinnston was swept into the soupy gray slurry along with two other men, both of whom survived.

Koon’s body wasn’t recovered until two weeks later, on Dec. 14, 2012.

In a decision released Wednesday, the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training said the embankment was not constructed or maintained to ensure the safe operation of mobile equipment.

Pennsylvania-based CONSOL didn’t immediately comment Thursday.

Media outlets say the report shows CONSOL managers had evidence the site was unsafe.

Engineer Paul Stuart Carter had received numerous email messages from a supervisor that week about high water pressure readings on the upstream slope.

The report says that on the morning of the collapse, Carter and supervisor Michael Friedline walked the slope and noticed bubbling. Friendline told Koon to leave the site, but a crack began to open as he started to move the dozer.

Friedline and Carter were in two pickups that went into the slurry with Koon and his dozer, which sank to a depth of 27 feet.

“The conditions of the impoundment deteriorated quickly,” the report said, “causing large sections of an approximately 5-foot high wave of slurry to travel west to east, then return to the collapsed area of the saddle dike.”

Friedline swam to safety while Carter was swept out to a “slurry island,” the report said, and was later rescued.

The section that failed was more than 600 feet long, 50 feet wide and 24 feet high.

State regulators also recommended CONSOL train employees on hazards of working near water, and that employees working near water wear life jackets, but it’s unclear whether that might have saved Koon.