The powerful industry of coal mining has left the Mountain State in disarray as the result of coal mines that have been abandoned. Coal provides a major source of energy across America; the coal mines of West Virginia have not only provided a major source of coal, they have also provided jobs and those jobs have built communities. Even though coal mining has been prosperous, it has had negative effects on the economy and the environment when the mines are left abandoned. The cleanup of closed mines has become time consuming and expensive. Abandoned mines not only pose a danger to our water, soil and air, they also harbor hidden dangers. State and Federal agencies are taking the devastating effects of abandoned coal mines into their own hands by reclaiming West Virginia.
CLASSIFICATION OF ABANDONED MINES
For operational purposes and to avoid double counting or undercounting emissions, the Mine Safety and Health Administration classified inactive or nonproducing mines into three classes:
1. Non-Producing, Men Working – Persons are maintaining equipment, but there is not any coal being produced.
2. No one working, Temporarily Abandoned – Mine may re-open. Coal production has ceased, there are no persons working.
3. No One Working, Permanently Abandoned – There has been coal produced and no persons working for a period greater than 90 days.
The classifications are important in counting a mine as active or inactive for emission inventory. Although a mine is classified NO ONE WORKING, TERMPORARILY ABANDONED is considered inactive, it can be considered active if ventilation fans continue to operate after the mine is closed. Without defining abandoned mines, mines will be double counted and will give a wrong number for emission and abandonment. (EPA, 2004)
DANGERS OF ABANDONED MINES
Abandoned mines offer adults and children adventure that often ends in death. Some of the dangers are obvious, while often the most deadly ones remain hidden. Some of the most common dangers include: (Labor)
• Can be hundreds of feet deep
• May be completely unprotected at the surface
• Can be hidden by vegetation or covered by rotten boards
• Opening may seem sturdy
• Rotting timbers and unstable rock formation pose cave ins
• Darkness and debris makes them more dangerous
• Lethal concentration of deadly gases accumulate in underground passages
Excavated Vertical Cliffs/ Highwalls
• Can be unstable
• Prone to collapse
Hills of loose material in stockpiles or refuse heaps
• Can collapse on biker or climber
Water filled quarries and pits, rock ledges
• Hide old machinery and other hazards
• Can be deeper than expected and can be extremely cold
• Steep, slippery walls makes exiting swimming holes difficult ( U.S. Department of Labor, MSHA, 03/24/2005, http://www.msha.gov/SOSA/facts.asp)
NATURE RETURNS TO HARM ITSELF
The after effects of coal mining linger in the environment for several years. The valuable resources given by nature often returns to become natures most dangerous enemy. Toxic gases and metals find their way into the environment to infect the air, water, and earth from which they came with their poisons. The poison emitted into the environment sometimes kills animals, plants, and even humans. Some of the most deadly metals and gases are: Acid, cyanide, methane, iron, aluminum, manganese, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide.
Nearly every abandoned coal mine has water accumulating and flowing in and out of it. These waters are usually highly acidic and filled with dissolved metals. The following creeks are some of the most common polluted by abandoned coal mines:
Kettle Creek: Some areas of Kettle Creek have outstanding levels of acidity, iron, and aluminum. These levels are greater than what the EPA considers safe and acceptable. The creek’s main stem and coldwater tributaries are lifeless because of drainage from abandoned coal mines. The cost to date to clean up this creek is around $ 1.2 million and an estimated $ 12 million will be necessary to finish the clean up. (Tim Zink, 2007)
Coal Creek: This creek suffers because of the four abandoned mine drainage sites in the watershed, three deep mine discharges, and a large refuge pile. The greatest source of pollution there is from the refuse pile. Although the cost of $ 1.5 million is not as significant as the cost of the cleanup of Kettle Creek, the cost is still great to clean up the pollution left behind. (Tim Zink, 2007)
The Cheat: Fifty-three streams in the Cheat watershed are considered impacted by abandoned mine drainage and the outstanding cost of $ 20 for cleanup doesn’t make the mess any prettier.
Stoneycreek – Conemaugh Rivers: At least 270 abandoned coal mine discharges were found in 1994 during a U.S. Geological Survey. Out of these 270 discharges 193 were dangerously acidic, 122 exceeded standards for iron concentration, and 141 exceeded standards for manganese. Another $ 8 million is expected to be spent on cleaning up the discharges.
Although not all of these creeks and streams are located in West Virginia, it is obvious that the terrible effects of the drainage from abandoned mines do exist. The cost of cleaning up these abandoned mines and their remains only add insult to the injury. (Tim Zink, 2007)
THE MINE OWNER’S RESPONSIBILITY
The costly cleanup of these abandoned mines often falls on the government even though the owner’s of the mines are responsible for the cost and maintenance of the mines. In 1977 Congress created the Abandoned Mine Lands program to help pay for the cost of clean-up. Mining companies across the nation were to pay 35 cents per ton of surface-mined coal and 15 cents per ton of underground-mined coal to help pay for the cost of reclaiming old mines. West Virginia government has set aside 10 percent of its budget for acid mine drainage. This money and the money from the mining companies don’t come anywhere close to the actual cost to clean up the land. (The State Journal- News for West Virginia’s Leaders, 2005)
Abandoned mines are a problem throughout the United States; they have truly had an effect on the environment and the economy. They pose hazards to wildlife and human life. This prosperous industry has left the Mountain State not only with economic difficulties, but it has also left it with blemishes that will take years to clean up.
EPA. (2004, May). Methane Emissions from Abandoned Coal Mines inthe United States. Emission Inventory Methodology and 1990-2002 Emission Estimates . EPA.
Labor, U. D. (n.d.). www.msha.gov. Retrieved January 19, 2008, from http://www.msha.gov/SOSA/fact.asp: http://www.msha.gov/SOSA/facts.asp
The State Journal- News for West Virginia’s Leaders. (2005, June 16). Retrieved 12 29, 2009, from West Virginia Legislature: http://www.legis.state.wv.us/WVCODE/Code.cfm?chap=22&art=2
Tim Zink, A. W. (2007). Trout Unlimited – Conserving Coldwater Fisheries. Retrieved from Trout Unlimited: http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/loose.dtd
webmaster. (2005, 03 24). U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved 01 19, 2008, from MSHA: http://www.msha.gov/SOSA/facts.asp
West Virginia Legislature. (n.d.). Retrieved 12 29, 2009, from West Virginia Code: http://www.legis.state.wv.us/WVCODE/Code.cfm?chap=22&art=2