Visit to an “Abandoned Coal Mine Reclamation” site

Posted: November 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

Mining of coal, in the United States, has been going on since the 1740s, but surface mining became widespread only after the 1930s. After mining is completed, coal mining companies have to reclaim the mine land to the standards defined by the state and federal government. This is a “Sustainable” practice. It is based on the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977.

“SMCRA balances the need to protect the environment from the adverse effects of surface coal mining with the Nation’s need for coal as an essential energy source. It ensures that coal mining operations are conducted in an environmentally responsible manner and that the land is adequately reclaimed during and following the mining process” (Title V of the SMCRA).

Reclamation Standard: If the coal mine was a farm with productivity “x”, before mining, then after the mining procedure has been completed, the reclaimed land should have the productivity of “x” or more


I recently visited an abandoned coal reclamation site called Enos in Pike County, IN. It was a site where the coal mining companies, before 1977, used to dump all the waste coal (powdered form). The technologies available during that time could not burn the powdered form of coal and could only burn stoker coal (We have the technology to burn the pulverized coal now). This coal has been lying in the same area for more than fifty years, and only recently action was taken to clear and reclaim the area by OSM (Office of Surface Mining). But the damage was done as it had a lot of adverse environmental effects such as:

  • Land Disturbance – The disturbance of forests, surface and ground water, soils, local land use, native vegetation, and wildlife populations.
  • Water pollution – Acid mine drainage (AMD). It is the water rich with metals that are formed from the reactions between rocks containing minerals of sulphur and water. The acid run-off formed, dissolves heavy metals such as copper, lead, and mercury into ground and surface water.
  • Destruction – surface and underground aquifers
RECLAMATION SITE

RECLAMATION SITE

The project of clearing the land was given to a contractor by OSM and there was no exchange of money between the two parties. The contractor did the job only because he earned a lot just by selling the (waste) coal.

The water due to the AMD was nearly blood red with a pH of around 2.0. The authorities were worried that this acidic water could pollute the water system of Patoka River which was nearby. Thus they used a bioreactor system to purify the water and strip off all the acidity.

BEFORE RECLAMATION

BEFORE RECLAMATION

AFTER RECLAMATION

AFTER RECLAMATION

ACIDIC WATER

ACIDIC WATER

ACID MINE DRAINAGE

ACID MINE DRAINAGE

The Bioreactor that was constructed was very efficient and was able to remove most of the oxides and sulphates, and brought down the pH from around 2.0 to 7.1 (pH of pure water is around 7.0). This clean water later joined the Patoka River.

THE BIOREACTOR

THE BIOREACTOR

THE WHOLE SITE

THE WHOLE SITE

It is mentioned by Ann Riley in the article,What is Restoration? – “It may be institutionally or ecologically not possible to restore a waterway”. But there is a lot of research going on in reclamation practices as there are a lot of problems involved with it.  Still, such sustainable practices can help prevent the land damage and inhibit pollution for the present and future generations.

References:

OFFICE of SURFACE MINING RECLAMATION and ENFORCEMENT. (n.d.). Regulating coal mines. Retrieved from http://www.osmre.gov/programs/rcm.shtm

Coal mine reclamation. (2011, August 22). Retrieved from http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Coal_mine_reclamation

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