The judge also ordered Patriot subsidiary Hobet Mining LLC to build a treatment system for one pollution outfall on its Hobet 22 permit, which is part of the much larger Hobet 21 complex. Chambers gave the company until May 1, 2013, to comply with selenium limits there.
Chambers also ordered St. Louis-based Patriot to file with the court a $45 million letter of credit to guarantee treatment funding. The judge also said he is likely to appoint a special master to oversee the projects.
In a news release, Patriot estimated initial costs of building the treatment systems at $50 million and said it would also have to spend $3 million a year on operating costs for those systems.
But the court case involved just four water pollution outlets, and court records indicate Patriot has selenium problems at another 74 outlets -- meaning the eventual costs to comply with selenium limits could easily run into hundreds of millions of dollars.
One financial disclosure by Patriot put its corporate-wide selenium treatment costs at nearly $400 million over 30 years. Testimony in the case before Chambers questioned whether that number was far too low.
"For future sites, it means that selenium-contaminated sites should not be permitted at all, because it is very expensive to treat selenium and treatment becomes a long-term responsibility that could outlive the coal companies and then fall on the public," said Jim Hecker, a Public Justice lawyer who represented citizen groups who sued over Patriot's selenium violations.
"For those sites that have already been permitted, it means that the coal companies can no longer seek indefinite compliance extensions by claiming that there is no feasible way to treat selenium."
In Patriot's news release, Whiting said the company had "dedicated significant resources over the last several years to take an industry-leading position in identifying viable treatment technology to address selenium discharges."
But Chambers held Patriot in contempt for missing an April 2010 deadline to end violations at the Ruffner Mine. The judge said that he had tried to give Patriot "as much leeway as possible," but that the company "has not exercised reasonable diligence in trying to comply" with that court-approved deadline.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.