Consol Opens Water Treatment Facility

Wheeling Intelligencer
12 July 2013
By Joselyn King, Political Writer

MANNINGTON, W.Va. - Consol Energy on Thursday dedicated its Northern West Virginia Advanced Water Treatment Facility, where water from underground mines is being treated to reduce harmful discharges.

Located in Mannington, W.Va., the $200 million project was finished "ahead of schedule, under budget and without any accidents," Consol President Nicholas J. DeIuliis said.

In March 2011, Consol agreed to pay a $5.5 million civil penalty for violations of the Clean Water Act and to spend an estimated $200 million on pollution controls to reduce discharges of harmful mining wastewater. The facility, Consol's 103rd water treatment operation, came about as a result of the agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of West Virginia.

"It represents the future of natural resource development in this country and stands as a testament to the realities of increased regulatory pressures the industry faces," DeIuliis said. "The world is looking at this facility to mirror what it is that we've accomplished."

The facility is designed to treat a maximum flow of 3,500 gallons per minute of mine water and is based on a Zero Liquid Waste process. Solid waste from the treatment process, including sludge and mixed salts, will be disposed of in an on-site landfill. As a result, no liquid or solid waste from the water treatment operations will leave Consol's property.

John Owsiany, director of waste systems and operations for Consol, said the water treatment plant cost $130 million. Consol spent another $70 million to build 35 miles of pipeline and six pump stations to bring water from underground areas of Consol Energy's Blacksville 2, Loveridge and Robinson Ridge mines to the central treatment plant. The water is pretreated at the mine locations for metals removal before entering the pipelines.

Owsiany led tours of the plant Thursday. Visitors learned how the acidic mine water is treated with lime and soda ash so solid byproducts can be extracted at the facility. The solids are discharged through a plate and frame press at the end of the line, then trucked to an on-site landfill that has a triple-layer lining to keep toxins from entering the soil and the local water table.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin commended Consol for doing "what was right" in building the treatment facility.

"Consol has taken a lot of heat in recent years," Tomblin said. "The demands for coal have slowed down considerably. But we've also had to fight our EPA and the way some of their regulations have come down."

He recalled a time when the Guyandotte River in his native Logan County "ran completely black" due to pollution coming from coal mines.

"It's taken us a long time, but we have many streams like that in West Virginia and we've been able to clear those streams up," Tomblin said, noting Consol's water treatment project "didn't happen two weeks ago or two months ago" but has been in the works for two years.

"That's one of the problems I have with our federal EPA," he continued. "They want to make changes overnight, and that's something that just can't be done."

Consol has an operating agreement with Veolia Water, a division of Veolia Environment, a global firm providing sustainable environmental services. The 10-year operating agreement is backed by a performance guarantee.

Water treated at the facility could be used by the oil and natural gas industry. Hydraulic fracturing of a typical well in West Virginia's Marcellus Shale region requires 3-5 million gallons of water. And Owsiany told West Virginia legislators meeting in Wheeling on June 20 that fewer permits might be required for fracking operations utilizing treated mine water, because treatment plants are already permitted and bonded.

Owsiany admitted to lawmakers that many industries hesitate to purchase and reuse treated mine water because of long-term liability concerns. But Consol has its own natural gas division, known as CNX Gas Corp.

Completed in May, a total of 30 full-time, permanent jobs are required to operate and maintain the facility.

DeIuliis said the facility will help the company sustain its ongoing investment in longwall mining operations and make Consol a "more diversified" energy provider.