This morning. three activists began an occupation of Massey Energy subsidiary Marfork Coal Company, Inc.’s main office. The protestors plan to present a citizen’s arrest warrant and list of violations on the Marfork processing plant, Bee Tree Surface Mine and Brushy Fork sludge impoundment to company president Christopher Blanchard and Massey CEO Don Blankenship.
Marfork Coal Co. has started work on the Bee Tree Surface Mine, and is blasting within 1,000 feet of the impoundment. The blasting threatens to decrease the stability of the Brushy Fork dam, which sits above a honeycomb of abandoned underground mines.
Just last week, the W. Va. Department of Environmental Protection issued a violation on the impoundment for failing to meet an engineering safety factor. This measurement determines how much force a structure can withstand beyond the amount that is expected to be exerted upon it. At the time of the issuance, the dam could withstand thirty percent additional force, rather than the fifty percent mandated by law.
The WVDEP was acting under a ten-day notice issued to them by the federal Office of Surface Mining.
“What’s sad is that the federal government has to go in,” said Joseph Hamsher of Charleston, W.Va., one of the protestors occupying the office. “You just know that someone up the road is telling the West Virginia DEP not to give Massey any more violations.”
If the Brushy Fork impoundment breaks, a 38.49-foot wall of water will arrive in Sylvester, a town 4.8 miles downriver, within 36 minutes. By Massey Energy’s own estimates, the disaster would kill 998 people.
“I won’t stop breaking the law until they do,” said Mike Roselle, who along with Hamsher and Tom Smyth, intends to stay in the office until Marfork Coal Co. suspends blasting operations.