Pennsylvania agency issues coal mine subsidence report

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said Dec. 30 that it has released the fourth in a series of ongoing reports detailing the effects of surface subsidence related to underground bituminous coal mining in Pennsylvania.

The report, prepared by the University of Pittsburgh, addresses the effects of mining in Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Clearfield, Elk, Greene, Indiana, Jefferson, Somerset and Washington counties. Covered in the report are by far the largest underground coal mines in the state: the Bailey, Enlow Fork and Harvey longwall mines of CONSOL Energy; and the Emerald and Cumberland longwall mines of Alpha Natural Resources. Smaller deep mines are scattered throughout the Pennsylvania coalfields.

“This report provides vital information about the significance of bituminous mining on Pennsylvania’s landscape,” said DEP Deputy Secretary for Active and Abandoned Mine Operations John Stefanko. “We will use this information to evaluate the effectiveness of our mining program and consider ways to enhance the program in the future.”

The report, mandated by the state legislature’s Act 54, details the amount of structures, water supplies and streams undermined during a five-year assessment period. It also provides an overview of the type of effects to surface structures and surface features, as well as information on how long it took to resolve those issues. Three previous Act 54 reports covered 1993 through 2008.

According to the report, there were 46 underground coal mines active during the reporting period beneath 31,343 acres of land, an 18% decline in the amount of land undermined during the previous five-year assessment period. In total, there were approximately 1,250 different “effects,” or incidents reported to DEP during this most recent five-year period by its staff, coal companies or land owners.

Other findings of the report include:

  • Since the last assessment, DEP has been able to identify more than double the amount of pre-mining wetland acreage due to improved techniques;
  • Continued study is warranted to assess wetland mitigation sites, if required, to make sure that the sites achieve proposed functionality;
  • Total biological scores, a measure of the insect life, show improvement over time at sites impacted by flow loss;
  • Gate cut mitigation, a method of leveling-out land that has experienced subsidence, has emerged as a successful tool to restore streams to their pre-mining condition;
  • A technical guidance document, titled Surface Water Protection – Underground Bituminous Coal Mining Operations, which was put in place in 2007, has improved the way DEP quantifies and interprets impacts to surface waters;
  • DEP has increased the amount and type of data required to make permit decisions related to mining activities; and
  • Data management and storage must be enhanced and standardized in order to efficiently enforce the requirements of Act 54 and its implementing regulations.

Representatives from the university will present their findings to DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council during an upcoming meeting. Act 54 was passed in 1994 and requires DEP to assess the impacts of underground bituminous coal mining on surface features. It expanded the list of structures for which mine operators were liable and held deep mine operators legally responsible for mining-related impacts to water supplies for the first time in Pennsylvania’s history.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.