Del. Mike Manypenny is leading the charge in the West Virginia House to codify a moratorium on coal slurry injection.

Manypenny's legislation, House Bill 4316, would prohibit issuance of new permits, permit modifications or permit renewals for the underground injection of coal slurry. The bill was introduced Thursday, Jan. 26.

"It's obvious that there's heavy metals in coal, and when you grind it down into an ultra-fine coal, which is what coal slurry is, with clays and slate and dirt, it can't be removed," Manypenny, D-Taylor, said.

Underground injection of coal slurry has been protested by environmental groups and citizens who live near injection sites. In areas such as Prenter, a group of citizens have claimed coal slurry has contaminated their water and caused a number of health problems in their community.

Manypenny said when initial studies came out, the results weren't necessarily clear and the need for more research has been highlighted. For example, Manypenny said, actual study of the slurry in the mine pool has not been extensively examined.

"The studies that have been done are on the slurry that goes in and the water outfalls that come out the mine pools," Manypenny said. "There's never been a true, in-mine pool study to determine what's really happening to the coal slurry. … Until we have some answers to what's happening in the mine pool, to the coal slurry, we need to ban this to make sure that we are putting in protections for the safety of the public and our citizens in these areas."

The Department of Environmental Protection has had a moratorium on any new injection sites for coal slurry since 2009. Manypenny's legislation, which he said he also introduced last year with a tax incentive for providing alternatives to coal slurry, would make that moratorium more permanent.

The Legislature's interest in the potential dangers of coal slurry injection has been ongoing for several years. A West Virginia University study requested by lawmakers was inconclusive on the dangers of coal slurry, and a DEP report in 2009 indicated it had insufficient data to make a conclusion.

Manypenny said additional studies with techniques such as introducing radioactive isotope markers to coal slurry to study its underground movement should also be considered to determine if coal slurry pumped into old mine sites is traveling into residential or commercial water aquifers or wells.

"There still needs to be a lot more research done before we can be comfortable allowing slurry injection back into mine pools," Manypenny said. "If we can come up with strong evidence that can determine that it won't travel underground and we know what's going on in the mine pool and from one mine pool to the next – you might be able to inject in one and not another depending on the chemistry of it."

Manypenny said he does not want to hinder the coal companies because "they have enough obstacles," but he doesn't want to see a "lackluster attitude" when it comes to slurry injection. Manypenny said studies and developments on separation of toxic materials from coal slurry should be examined as well.

Mining materials from coal slurry, he said, could have not only economic potential, but also the possibility of reducing coal slurry injections and impoundments.

Manypenny also introduced a bill that would incentivize reuse of coal slurry in the form of a break on severance taxes.

Delegates Linda Longstreth, D-Marion, and Don Perdue, D-Wayne, are co-sponsoring the bill, which was referred to the Committee on Energy, Industry and Labor, Economic Development and Small Business then the Judiciary.