Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Secretary for Active and Abandoned Mine Operations John Stefanko on Dec. 11 toured the site where Rosebud Mining is building a facility designed to eliminate a major source of acid mine drainage into the Little Conemaugh River.
The DEP noted in a Dec. 11 statement that it has signed a groundbreaking Consent Order and Agreement with the company to treat the St. Michael discharge, enabling Rosebud to build and operate the facility. Rosebud, controlled by J. Clifford Forrest, is one of the largest underground coal mine operators in Pennsylvania, specializing in room-and-pillar mines.
Stefanko said: “This plan will eliminate a major source of acid mine drainage into the Little Conemaugh River, and it will allow Rosebud to safely mine a significant coal reserve adjacent to the St. Michael discharge. It will provide jobs and benefit the local economy, while protecting the environment and taking a major step toward cleaning up the Little Conemaugh.”
The company estimates that the current St. Michael discharge is responsible for as much as 44% of the total acid mine drainage load to the Little Conemaugh River. By lowering the mine pool and treating the water in the St. Michael shaft, Rosebud will be able to access the coal reserves, which the company estimates will take up to 40 years to mine.
Rosebud is responsible for all costs to treat the mine pool water, utilizing best available technology for the life of the mining operation. The company has also agreed with the DEP to make annual payments to a special trust fund, which will be used to permanently pay the operations, maintenance and recapitalization costs for the discharge treatment facility once mining is completed.
Under the company’s original treatment plan, the treated water would still have contained certain levels of constituents that would not meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. “That problem threatened to kill the project,” Stefanko said.
DEP Mining staff and the agency’s Office of Chief Counsel worked with Rosebud and EPA to come up with a groundbreaking agreement for a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for the St. Michael facility. The result was the first mining permit issued in Pennsylvania to require Rosebud to document that its treatment of the St. Michael drainage discharge and others, as part of its mining operation, is improving water quality. It is also the first agreement to provide a method to calculate and report acid mine drainage load reductions on the river.