Mine cited after blowout releases thousands of gallons of water in Leslie

CHAPPELL — A mine blowout in southeastern Kentucky was releasing thousands of gallons of water Sunday from an underground mine that had not been used since the 1970s, but no injuries or evacuations were reported, state officials said.

"We're not looking at hillside failures," said Paul Rothman, spokesman for the state Energy and Environment Cabinet. "We don't see that happening here."

The blowout was discovered Saturday at 9 p.m. by local residents near the community of Chappell in Leslie County, Rothman said.

The water was flowing directly out of the mine, owned by Bledsoe Coal Corp., and into Robinson Creek, at approximately 10,000 gallons per minute, Rothman said.

He called that amount of water "a fairly significant release ... a fairly large amount."

Rothman described the water as clear with some suspended metals in it, and said samples of water had been taken for testing. He said officials do not believe "there is a water quality issue at this time."

Only one homeowner about 2,000 feet downstream was asked to leave as a precaution, he said, but the homeowner refused.

"There's no homes in danger," said Chappell resident Bill Lewis, who spoke to The Associated Press by telephone, saying he lived downstream from the blowout but was not asked to leave. "No big deal at all."

A woman who answered the telephone in the Harlan office of Bledsoe Coal said she had no information on the blowout, and offered the number for the Leslie County office. That telephone number rang without an answer.

The state Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement cited Bledsoe Coal because of the blowout, and both a notice of noncompliance and an imminent danger closure order were issued Saturday, Rothman said.

Bledsoe Coal had an active permit for the mine, but it had not been used in at least 40 years, Rothman said.

An old, inactive slurry impoundment and a fresh water impoundment are located over portions of the old mine, and it is unclear whether they are leaking into the old mine or whether there is any relationship between them and the blowout, Rothman said.

Rothman said it will be Bledsoe's responsibility to install a drain in the mine once the water begins to dissipate.

A mine blowout typically occurs in an unused mine when water collects at low points and pressure builds up, Rothman said. The water will come through the surface of an area that has eroded over time, he said.