Pen Coal


            “Due to the Blasting Notice—Due to the shaking of my house very hard at times—We want to be able to hear these, or be notified so as to be aware of shots when close to us—So as they won’t be as much as a shock.” The Lowes, 7-23-99, in a petition to DEP, signed by 12 members of the Lowe family.


            The numerous members of the Lowe family live along Copley Trace Branch of Kiah Creek, about 14 miles southeast of Harts in Lincoln County. Two parts of Pen Coal’s surface mine complex stretch for two miles in both directions on the mountains behind their homes. A couple parts of the mine are just over 1,000 feet from their homes.

            Blasting has been bothering the Lowes and their neighbors for several years, which is why they asked DEP for a hearing when Pen Coal applied for an addition of another 11.84 acres. They have filed a number of complaints, which describe their feelings quite dramatically: “Blast at 11:00 on 3/2/00 jarred house hard.” “Shot on 12/15/99 at 3:16 p.m. shook house, ‘Bad Vibrations, don’t know how long he can stand it. Blasting is getting really bad.’”

            Oddly, when they are outside in the yard, they sometimes don’t feel a blast. However when they are inside, the walls and windows shake and pictures rattle. According to Mark Trimble of Vibratech, this has occurred at another mine where he did tests with a seismograph. He said that the frequency of the vibrations of the blast are in the range that will cause the house to vibrate. Pen Coal did not report many seismograph readings, but 12 of the 16 reported were for blasts noted as bothersome. All but two frequencies were within the range of 4 to 11 Hz, which a study by the Bureau of Mines found would cause a house to vibrate.

            Pen Coal officials discount the complaints about blasting. More than any other mine, its officials attribute the problems to a certain kind of person who lives near the mines. It isn’t so much that they are bothered by blasting, one official said. It’s that they want money. He said Pen Coal has paid for broken items, but people keep coming back with requests for jobs, donations, or money. Pen Coal officials believe at least one family has a phone chain. If one person feels a blast, he or she calls the others so that they can complain also. Patty Lowe said that people are just very upset about the dust from the trucks going up the road up to the mine and the nuisance from the blasting.

            Some of the citizens impacted by Pen Coal’s blasting were involved in a lawsuit over blasting from another nearby mine. The same Charleston lawyers, John Sutter and John Mitchell, who did the Bim case also brought that case. It was settled in the summer of 1999 for an undisclosed amount. The Lowes, however, have not seen any change in the blasting. They are worried that Pen Coal’s proposed permit will just cause them more problems.



            Blasts here tend to be medium size, ranging from 400 pounds to 187,400 pounds, with the majority between 20,000 pounds and 70,000 pounds. We collected data on 125 blasts, of which 63 were recorded by the Lowes and neighbors as troublesome.

            Like the Evergreen mine in Webster County, this mine has used the exception in the state regulations that allows it to use larger blasts than allowed. The amount of explosive used per delay period is determined by a formula based on distance from the closest protected structure. The nearer the building, the less powder can be used. Of the 125 blasts we recorded, 12 exceeded the formula amount. Eight of those caused problems for the Lowes. Two of the others were fairly small blasts.

            A mine is allowed to exceed the limit if it records the vibrations with a seismograph at the nearest protected structure. However, at least one of those houses is owned by someone who is paid thousands of dollars for leasing surface rights, according to a Pen Coal official.

            All but one of the eight binder shots caused complaints, and that one was a very small shot.

            Those two factors—exceeding the limit and binder design—explain 15 of the 63 troublesome shots. The other two factors that seem to contribute are the amount of explosive per delay and the closeness of large shots. In 16 of the remaining 48 shots (33 percent), the ratio of the amount blasted per delay was 60 percent or more of the maximum allowed by the formula. Only 10 (18 percent) of the non-troublesome blasts were over 60 percent of the maximum allowed.

            It appears that distance and size of the blasts contribute to the other bothersome blasts. Of the remaining 32 blasts, 21 (67 percent) were more than 26,000 pounds and within 3200 feet of the closest protected structure. Of the remaining 47 non-troublesome blasts, only 13 (28 percent) were more than 26,000 pounds and within 3200 feet of the closest protected structure. I can’t tell exactly where the Lowes’ houses are in relation to the closest structures for the blasts, so it could be that some of the non-troublesome blasts were quite far away.


Continue to in-depth analyses of blasting problems in nine communities: