The first place to look for information about mining permits is the DEP's Permit Search page. There are a few different searches depending on what you are looking for. NOTE: Do not assume this is the most up-to-date information. While the site is regularly updated, it can contain information that is not 100% accurate and/or current. This is no substitute for direct communication with the DEP, looking at the actual permits, or FOIA'ing for specific information. However, it still has many uses when looking for instantly available information. WARNING: The DEP's website breaks routinely. Be prepared to lose access at any time. Save anything really important you find to your computer.
This is where you will find information about SMCRA Article 3 Mine Permits. You can find information here about mine locations and boundaries, which seams they are mining, which activities are allowed, what violations they have gotten and other basic information.
You can search for permits by coal company, permit number, county, or USGS quadrangle. This will return a list of permits with the following information:
Coal Company, Type of Operation, Permit #, Issue Date, Facility Name (if available), and Status
Most of these are self explanatory; however, there are a couple of things to note.
First, an explanation of different statuses:
New – an active permit in the first 5 year permit cycle
Renewed – an active permit older than 5 years
Inactive – a permit that has received permission to become temporarily shut down
Active – a permit that was Inactive that has since been reactivated
Phase 1 Released – a permit that has had some of its bond released and is being reclaimed
Completely Released – a permit that is completely reclaimed and the company's bond returned
Revoked – a permit that the DEP has taken away due to truly egregious behavior
Second, "Type of Operation" is fairly unreliable, though it gives you a starting place. Sometimes surface operations can be filed with an underground permit. Preparation plants are particularly difficult and can be found filed with almost any kind of permit. “Other” permits can be many things from a haul road to a massive impoundment. To really find out what a permit is for you'll need to click on the permit number to take you to the “Permit Details Page”.
This page provides you with most of the essential basic information about a permit, broken down into several sections.
The info here is mostly self-explanatory. One note about the different acreages.
Original Acres - the number of acres applied for in the original permit
Disturbed Acres – the number of acres currently actively disturbed (areas that have been “reclaimed” don't count of course)
Reclaimed Acres – the number of acres they have supposedly fixed
Total Acres – the total acres currently permitted (often higher than original acres due to significant boundary revisions or other additions to the permit)
There are a bewildering number of specific, different permit statuses depending on exactly where they are in the mining process. The following list is a best guess at what exactly they all mean.
A1 – Active, Moving Coal Possible – a permit that could be extracting coal, but is not
A2 – Active, Reclamation Only – a permit that is still active but is only doing reclamation at the moment and not moving coal
A3 - Active, Reclaimed – a permit that is reclaimed but has not yet had any of its bond released
A4 – Active, No Coal Removed – a permit that is active but has not extracted any coal
AM – Active, Moving Coal – a permit that is actively extracting coal
IA – Approved Inactive Status – a permit that has permission to temporarily shut down
NS – Not Started – a permit that is complete and issued but no work has begun
P1 – Phase One Release – a permit that is now being reclaimed where backfilling and grading is complete and they have received a portion of their bond back
P2 – Phase Two Release – a permit that is now being reclaimed where revegetation is complete and they have received their bond back.
PV – Phase One Release - a permit that is now being reclaimed where 60% has been revegetated and they have received a portion of their bond back
RC – Reclaimed, but Chemical Treatment of Water – a permit where reclamation is complete, but chemical water treatment is ongoing due to continued discharge problems
Permit Activities Allowed
Here is where you will find what exactly the permit is for. It will tell you which kinds of mining are allowed at the site and what other activities (such as refuse disposal, haul road, load out, preparation plant, etc) are allowed. However, once again you cannot count on this portion being complete or even sometime there are at all. It will also give you the date that particular activity was added to the permit if it wasn't there from the original application.
Here you will find a running tally of things that have happened to the permit, including the date of each revision (including acres added and/or deleted if applicable), each renewal, and any changes in ownership or permit status. Of particular interest are DAM Certifications. That tells you when they added an impoundment or other large water dam. Impoundments will also have regular entries for EWP – Emergency Warning Plans. You will also find if they have been issued a Show Cause or Cessation Order.
Here you will find their designations for Premining and Postmining Land Uses. This means what the land was used for before they blew it up and what it will supposedly be used for afterwards.
Here you will find a list of all the ways the DEP is allowing the coal company to break state and federal law (unfortunately the same laws give the DEP permission to do this). You will notice that every large surface mine has several. The variances are fairly complex - too much to be covered here.
This lets you know which county the permit is in, and what USGS quad map you can use to locate it.
Here you will find a listing of each dam, valley fill, and water discharge (called Outlets) on the permit. This is particularly useful for finding impoundments.
Here you will find locations for each of the above units as well as the approximate center of the permit itself. Here is where you will also find a link to the Map feature (“Show Map”).
Here you will find a list of which coal seams they are mining. Generally, the greater the number for a surface mine, the more elevation they are blasting away. This is particularly useful in conjunction with the Coalbed Mapping Project (see below). NOTE: The naming of coalbeds can be extremely inconsistent. Different companies use different names for seams, and hardly anybody uses exactly the official USGS naming system. (see attached partial list). There is no easy method for sorting through that particular mess, but the Coalbed Mapping Project can sometimes help.
At the bottom you will find links to “Inspection Details” and “Violation Details”. The “Inspection Details” page is confusing and of limited utility. However, “Violation Details” is a treasure trove of useful information.
This page will give you a list of violations organized by operator of the permit and then by date. Most info is self-explanatory (you will note the disgustingly low fines these people pay). The most confusing feature is the “Enforcement Standard Description”. This SHOULD tell you what kind of violation was issued. However, they often file some violations under catch-all categories such as “Permit Conditions” or “Other Conditions”. This is done to avoid triggering the “Show Cause” process which can be initiated if a permit receives three of the same category of violations within 12 months (but only if the violations are “deliberate” or “unwarranted”, i.e., the DEP feels like it or gets pressured into it). This is a CRITICAL flaw in the DEP's program and documenting this behavior is essential. This is a complex process involving reviewing the WV SMCRA regulations that are cited and determining whether a more appropriate Enforcement Standard Code should have been used. Finally, under “Description” you will usually see “Notice of Violation”, but sometimes you will see “Cessation Order”. Cessation Orders are much more serious and are issued when a condition on the site is determined to create an imminent health and safety danger to the public or an imminent harm to the environment. A Cessation Order prevents mining activities in the area of the violation until it is fixed.
Clicking on the Violation Date will bring you to the “Violation Summary” page.
This page will give you a short description of the exact violation and what actions the company took (or didn't take) to correct the violation. Unfortunately, the amount of detail available is mostly at the discretion of the inspector that issued the violation.
Here you will find the basic info about the violation. Most important are the name of the inspector issuing the violation and the sections of code and regulations that are violated. “Current Evaluation” will also tell you the current status of the violation.
Extended - the violation is ongoing and not fixed.
Terminated - the violation has been fixed
Withdrawn - the inspector has taken the violation back (sometimes if it was issued in error, but often seemingly just to let the company off for quickly fixing it)
Negative Pattern Determination – the violation was eligible to trigger the “Show Cause” process, but the DEP decided not to issue one
Consent Order (In Effect or Terminated) – the DEP did initiate a “Show Cause” but made an agreement with the company instead of shutting down the permit
The “Assessed?” question tells you whether or not the company was fined.
The first block will tell you specifically what the violation was as well as the company's deadline for fixing it (“Abate By Date”). The subsequent block will provide updates on what the company has done to fix the violation. The company has to report within 30 days generally and the violation must be fixed within 90 days, except in cases where regulators, judges, strikes, the weather, or safety regulations prevent the company from doing so. If the company can't come up with one of those excuses and doesn't fix it within 90 days, the inspector is obligated to issue a Cessation Order. In practice this is another area where the DEP program is often flawed. (You'll notice a pattern of the DEP doing everything possible to avoid shutting down a mine.) Somewhat more information is often available by FOIA'ing for the violation by Permit Number and Violation Number.
The DEP has a GIS mapping tool linked to from each permit that you can use online. It is STRONGLY recommended that, if you can, you download the Google Earth layer that contains the same information. It is MUCH easier to use and typically also more accurate. The disadvantages are that it is not frequently updated and will not have the most recently issued permits and you must update it yourself by downloading the most recent file of “Mining Permit Boundaries” here:
If you don't have Google Earth or need to look at recently issued permits, the DEP Map is a perfectly serviceable tool. Nearly everything you need to know to use the Map is contained in the “help” tab located at the bottom edge of the map. Navigation tools for the maps are above it, while the tools controlling what information you see on the map and other useful functions are at the bottom. A couple of important notes to make things easier. When you click a link on the “Permit Geography” section, it will take you to the map with a big red “X” on the location of the particular inspectable unit. The map will have different layers of information that you can turn on and off and the default you start with has all the layers turned off. That's not very useful, so the first thing you should do is to go down below the map and turn on the “Mining Permit Boundaries” layer by clicking the checkbox and then clicking the button with the pencil to redraw the map (which you must do every time you change which layers are displayed). The second set of checkboxes headed “query” determines which detailed information you get by clicking on the map using the question mark button at the top.
There are a few other searches that are also useful.
This is where you can search for applications that have not been granted yet. This is most useful for looking for new mining permit applications, but it also will have pending revisions, renewals, bond releases or really any change in a permit or permit status. Be sure to be pick exactly what you are looking for from the drop down menu.
The search generally works exactly the same as the mining permit search with a couple of differences. When the list of applications is generated, you get to the permit summary page by clicking on the “Type” column. The permit summary page for an application contains most of the same information as the summary page for an issued permit. The additional information is primarily about bonding and insurance. “Bonding Type” tells you whether they have to put up all the bond at once or bit by bit as they go. “Blasting Insurance” tells you whether there are “protected structures” (like someone's house) within the tiny radius that they claim can be affected by blasting (0.7 miles). IMPORTANT: Maps of the permit boundaries are NOT available online for pending permits. You must go to the DEP for that.
There are also three dates.
Submitted Date – when the application was first filed
Admin Complete – when the DEP determined that all necessary information had been submitted
Tech Review Complete – when the DEP approves of the mining plan (issuance of permit is imminent)
Clicking on the “Status” column will bring you to the “Application Milestones” page.
Here you will find a blow by blow accounting of the permit process. It can be dull, but sometimes yields valuable information. Particularly important is when the comment period begins or ends. Comment periods begin with a Public Notice of the permit advertised. There will also be a record of each person that has objected to the permit and information about public hearings (“informal conferences”) if they happen.
Application Milestones Still Required
Here you will find out the major steps left to take before the permit is issued. This can be useful in gauging how close a permit is to being issued as well as identify which options you have left to intervene in the process. WARNING: The steps are not always listed in the order in which they will be completed. The last three steps are generally “Bond Received”, “Signoff, permit supervisor”, and finally “Sent to Headquarters.”
National Pollution Discharge and Elimination System (NPDES) permits are the Clean Water Act permits that regulate water quality leaving a mine. Water is only allowed to leave a mine site through approved channels (“outlets”) that are regularly tested for some measures of water quality. The limits are set by these permits. There will also be other water quality monitoring station to ensure compliance.
The search works just like the mining permit search. Clicking on the permit number will take you to the Permit Details page.
Most of the page is similar to the mining permits page with a couple of differences. The “Related Permits” section will list the mining permits, underground injection permits, and other NPDES permits that the permit is connected to. This can be a way to find out if a mine is injecting anything. For the “Inspectable Units”, all units will be outlets, injection monitoring, or stream monitoring locations. If the outlet discharges into a stream, the stream name will be listed. Violations are not filed with NPDES permits and can be found with the associated mining permit.
Water Resources Permit Search
Here you will find injection permits mixed in with many other permits. To find injection wells, look for “5X13 – Mining, Sand and Other Backfill Wells” under well type. The information available from this search is almost useless. All you learn is the most recent renewal date and the average flow permitted in millions of gallons per day. It doesn't even tell you what they are injecting.
A far superior tool for injection permits, though somewhat difficult to use, is the DEP E-Cabinet. Virtually all DEP files on injections are publicly available here with a regular search feature like a web search. At the time of writing, E-Cabinet is down. If it ever become public again, you can likely find it here: http://ecabinet.dep.wv.gov/