Dominion powers removal of largest pollution source of Clinch River

dominion virginia powerDominion, government agencies and a company that specializes in removing waste coal are finishing up a major clean-up project in Southwest Virginia that will help significantly improve water quality in the Clinch River by using a half-million tons of “gob” coal to make electricity in a state-of-the-art power station.

“This is major environmental success story,” said Paul Koonce, chief executive officer for the Dominion Generation business group. “A unique power station is taking a waste product from a century-old coal mine and using it to responsibly make energy for Virginia today. This gob coal piled along the banks of a Clinch River tributary has been polluting the river for decades and desperately needed to be cleaned up. Along with the environmental benefits, our Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center, is helping to keep our electric rates stable and boosting the economy of Southwest Virginia with jobs and taxes.”

The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, or DMME, has long considered the 12-acre Hurricane Creek gob pile site its highest priority for reclamation in the Dumps Creek watershed. In 2014, the federal Office of Surface Mining approved DMME’s environmental document for the project and authorized proceeding with the reclamation as part of a larger effort to improve the health of the Clinch River Watershed.

“This abandoned mine land was the largest pollution contributor to the Clinch River,” said DMME Director John Warren. “The environment is one of our top priorities.  Our Abandoned Mine Land program group worked diligently to come up with funding to help rid Southwest Virginia of this hazard. We are also proud to be a part of something that will also completely restore the health of the tributary stream, Dumps Creek.”

The Hurricane Creek gob pile is located near Carbo, Va., on Dumps Creek and about a half-mile from the Clinch River.  It dates back to 1907 when the Moss 2 mine was first being operated by Clinchfield Coal Co. The mine was shut down after a few years and then reactivated in the 1940s and operated for several more decades. As was common at the time, coal that had too much rock and dirt mixed in for power station and other uses – gob – was often left piled along streams and creeks.

Approximately one million tons of waste coal and rock were removed and properly disposed of as part of this clean up-project, with about 500,000 tons of gob coal transported to the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center (VCHEC) at St. Paul, where it was used to produce electricity.

It is estimated that every year more than 200 tons of waste coal from the pile made it into Clinch River for decades. Because of the vast quantity of gob coal at the site and its extremely low Btu content, there was no economically feasible solution to remove the gob until the construction VCHEC with its unique waste-coal burning capabilities.

The Nature Conservancy of Virginia protects more than 35,000 acres in the Clinch Valley and has been working for years to restore the health of the Clinch River and the wildlife it supports.

“The reclamation of the Hurricane Creek gob pile is an important step toward improving water quality in the nationally important Clinch River watershed,” said Brad Kreps, director of the Clinch Valley Program for the Nature Conservancy. “Finding creative solutions to address pollution from abandoned mined lands is a crucial part of a larger effort underway to ensure that the Clinch River can provide clean water for the people, wildlife, and the local economies that depend on it.”

Eleven other gob piles in this part of Virginia have already been reclaimed by Gobco, Dominion and DMME because of VCHEC’s waste-coal burning capabilities – approximately 2.65 million tons to date. For vivid before-and-after pictures, go to

Gob is an old English word that stands for ‘garbage of bituminous.’ Bituminous is the type of coal found in Southwest Virginia.

VCHEC is a 600-megawatt power station that utilizes a technology called “circulating fluidized bed” so it can burn waste coal.  It can also burn biomass as part of its fuel and currently uses the renewable source for about 10 percent of its fuel. Fitted with the latest environmental control technology, VCHEC began operation in 2012 and quickly took on waste coal as part of its fuel stream. The facility operates under some of the most stringent air quality requirements in the nation for a coal-fired power station.

Dominion partners with Gobco LLC of Abingdon, Va., a company that has won multiple awards for its work in environmental reclamation, to identify and reclaim old waste coal sites in Southwest Virginia. Gobco screens out the waste coal and provides it to VCHEC for use in the power station. The site is cleaned down to the original ground, covered with top soil where necessary, sloped as needed for proper drainage and replanted with a special grass that supports wildlife. The surface area is then replanted with thousands of native hardwood tree seedlings.

“To see these old waste coal sites restored is really a joy for us,” said Walt Crickmer, co-owner and manager of Gobco. “I have worked 40 years in the coal industry and the last 13 years overseeing these reclamation efforts. However, it was not until VCHEC came online that our company really had the opportunity to clean up some of the worse problems. The irony is that a new type of coal-fired power station is crucial to cleaning up the waste of a bygone era in coal mining.”

Over the coming months, Dominion will be working with Gobco and DMME to evaluate other major gob piles in the Clinch River watershed and plan for their reclamation.


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