Abandoned Mine Fires in PA
Anyone have a brilliant idea on how to extinguish these fires?
By DAN NEPHIN
Associated Press Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) - For more than three decades, a fire has been
simmering inside the old abandoned Percy Mine, along the top of a
coal seam in the rural farmlands of southwestern Pennsylvania. At
970 feet underground at its deepest point, the fire is contained on
one side by a mine pool and on another by rock, its flames spread
through a labyrinth of tunnels.
Millions of dollars have been spent over the past two decades
trying to control the fire; other material was pumped in, portions
were excavated and workers tried building a clay wall to contain
it. State officials hope to finally extinguish the fire with a new
$3.2 million plan to pump a mixture of coal ash and cement into
bore holes, cutting off the fire's oxygen.
The fire illustrates one of the more difficult tasks
environmental officials face in trying to clean up thousands of
abandoned mine lands scattered across the state, mostly in the
bituminous region of western Pennsylvania and the anthracite
regions of northeast Pennsylvania.
An estimated 1.6 million Pennsylvanians live within one mile of
an abandoned mine, where problems include fires, acid mine
drainage, open shafts and blowouts. Eliminating the dangers of
abandoned mine lands, known as reclamation, is expected to take
Since 1980, Pennsylvania has been provided $665 million in
reclamation funds from the federal Abandoned Mine Land fund,
according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. The
program has taxed surface-mined coal at 35 cents a ton and coal
mined underground at 15 cents a ton since 1978, with coal operators
paying more than $7 billion so far into the fund.
Since the federal program began, Pennsylvania has reclaimed
17,000 acres and cleaned up 180 miles of streams. But the DEP
estimates it will take 50 or 60 years and $15 billion to clean
250,000 acres and more than 2,100 miles of degraded streams.
At any given time, the DEP's Bureau of Abandoned Mine
Reclamation is working on some 70 to 80 reclamation projects. They
are ranked by priority, with top priority given to projects that
impact people's health and safety.
"Our phones ring off the hook with people calling about
abandoned mine features," said J. Scott Horrell, environmental
program manager with the bureau.
The most significant problem can be waters polluted by acid mine
drainage. It is frequently treated using passive treatment systems,
which mimic the process by which acid mine drainage clears up in
nature, but in a controlled setting and much faster.
Acid mine drainage is the term given to water that flows out of
abandoned mines or through coal refuse piles. Water entering voids
in mines reacts with oxygen and minerals containing iron and
sulfur, and the polluted water leaves the mine carrying those
Acid mine drainage usually appears as a rusty orange or yellow
substance known as yellowboy that coats streambeds, suffocating
life. (Mine drainage can also carry aluminum or magnesium, but iron
is most common.)
Passive treatment uses artificial ponds and wetlands through
which the polluted water is directed. As the water enters the
ponds, iron begins to precipitate, or settle out. As water flows
from pond to pond, it gets cleaner until it's clean enough to
discharge into a stream. The ponds often use limestone, which
raises the water's alkalinity, thereby lowering the amount of iron
it can carry.
Reclamation can also take other forms.
Advances in coal burning technology enable companies to re-mine
hulking waste coal piles, also called boney piles or gob piles.
Pennsylvania has an estimated 250 million tons of waste coal.
Removing the coal eliminates the source of pollutants that are
flushed out by rain and ground water and companies must clean the
sites to current environmental standards.
Reliant Energy last year opened the country's largest waste coal
burning power plant in Seward. The Westmoreland County plant
generates enough energy to power about 156,000 households and burns
about 3.5 million tons of waste coal annually.
"Modern day coal mining can be great allies in dealing with
sins of the past," said Bruce Golden, executive director of the
Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation.
Another problem of abandoned mines can be open mine shafts,
which must be filled in and sealed off to prevent people from
falling in or suffocating from gases.
In the Beaver County town of Fallston, DEP officials plan to
spend $100,000 to seal several entries at a mine abandoned since
the 1960s. The openings - one of which looks simply like a cave -
pose a risk of collapse and officials believe teenagers gather at
the site, as evidenced by a chair and scattered cans found there.
Abandoned mines can also have dangerous highwalls, sheer cliffs
created during surface mining. To reduce the risk of collapse,
officials must grade the highwalls to resemble how they were before
they were mined.
The state plans to spend about $500,000 to do just that to a
highwall near the Beaver County town of Darlington. Left from a
strip mine that is now closed, the highwall has become an
attraction for ATV riders.
Frequently, the state contracts with private firms for
reclamation work because there is simply so much to do.
The DEP is talking with utility holding company Exelon Corp.
about the potential to use treated mine water to cool its Limerick
Generating Station. The company currently uses water pumped from
the Schuylkill River or, during low-flow periods, pumps water 48
miles from the Delaware River.
J. Scott Roberts, deputy secretary of DEP's office of mineral
resources management, said the first phase of a feasibility study
"If that works, that's 35 million gallons of mine drainage that
will be treated at no cost to anyone in the commonwealth," Roberts
Once the old mines are cleaned up, many have found new uses for
In Elk County, elk forage on grasses planted on a reclaimed
strip mine. Also, trout have returned to parts of Yellow Creek in
Indiana County, where Robert L. Eppley, president of the Blacklick
Creek Watershed Association, also envisions a recreational trail
over an old railroad bed on which coal was transported.
On the Net:
DEP Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation:
Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation:
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
If I remember correctly, (not easy at my age) there was a "Gripping the edge of your seat" Mine Rescue in Pennsylvania a few years back. Miners working in one mine were trapped by floodwaters after a wall broke through from an adjacent abandoned and flooded mine. Thus, the bright idea at hand: All someone needs to do is invent a means of connecting all the flooded ones to the burning ones. George? Jerry? I got the can, guys. Let's hit it....... :eek: :eek:
I think you're on to something. I've seen this tactic used a few times over the years, and it is an excellent way of protecting the concrete slab that makes up the basement floor. Being the observant person that I am, I also noted that there are extremely few rekindles of debris that is immersed in water. We should not have too much trouble hiring a Chief who is well versed in this type of extingushment. Could you call Harrisburg and get the unlimited State Funding set up? I'll go to Washington and start on the Federal side.
Originally posted by GeorgeWendtCFI
I'm surprised we can't find a FD that could do this. I have watched alot of them fight fire by attempting to fill the basement with water. It would just take a little more time to do it with a mine.