Tuesday, January 4, 2011

DEP Report Shows Underground Mining Impacts Property, Water

A new report from the Department of Environmental Protection and the University of Pittsburgh is providing the Commonwealth with valuable information that will be used to better understand and prevent underground mine subsidence from damaging aboveground property and water supplies, which continues to be a problem in southwestern Pennsylvania.
The report, required by Act 54 of 1994, addresses the effects of mining in Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Clearfield, Elk, Greene, Indiana, Jefferson, Somerset and Washington counties from August 2003 through August 2008.
Act 54 requires such reports to be prepared every five years. The two previous reports covered 1993 through 2003.
"Mining has been-and, for the foreseeable future, will continue to be-a part of our economy and way of life," said DEP Secretary John Hanger. "Unfortunately, mine subsidence is often associated with the industry's activities. While coal companies have made advances to reduce underground mining's impact on the surface, this report gives us a chance to better understand how those incidents occur, where they're occurring, and how we can prevent them or address them more timely."
Secretary Hanger said the report details the number of structures, water supplies and streams undermined during the five-year assessment period. It provides an overview of the type and severity of any damages to surface structures and surface features, as well as information on how long it took to resolve those issues. The report also describes and assesses the effectiveness of mitigation measures designed to minimize structural damages and damages to water resources.
According to the report, there were 50 underground coal mines active during the reporting period beneath 38,256 acres of land. In total, there were 1,247 different "effects," or incidents reported to DEP during this most recent five-year period by its staff, coal companies or land owners.
Eight longwall mines in Greene and Washington counties accounted for nearly 94 percent of the incidents involving structures and 89 percent of the impacts to land.
The total number of incidents reported represents a 14-percent increase over the 1998-2003 period. DEP is examining the incident reports to determine what factors, if any, contributed to the increase and to identify trends that can be used in designing the next five-year assessment.
Other findings of the report include:
-- Of the 3,735 structures inventoried in the target counties, 456 (12 percent) were impacted by mining, while 108 of the 3,587 properties (3 percent) inventoried were impacted;
-- Nearly 2,800 wells, springs and ponds were undermined with 683, or 24.5 percent, reporting some impact. At the end of the assessment period, 449 of those cases had been resolved.
-- The average time to resolve impacts to structures, land and water supplies was 207 days, 246 days and 321 days, respectively.
Act 54 held deep mine operators legally responsible for surface damages caused by their mining operations for the first time in Pennsylvania's history. Underground coal mines that operated prior to 1994 did not have a legal obligation to protect or restore surface structures or water supplies.
A copy of the full report is available online.
Mine Subsidence Insurance
Secretary Hanger noted that while the report illustrates the subsidence potential for active mines, abandoned mines also pose a danger, so it is important for those owning property above abandoned underground mines to insure themselves and their belongings against subsidence-related damage.
"We estimate that more than a million homes sit atop abandoned mines, yet many homeowners are not insured against catastrophic property losses if these mines should collapse," said Secretary Hanger. "That's why Pennsylvania has made Mine Subsidence Insurance more affordable."
Pennsylvania has reduced policy rates for mine-subsidence insurance by 20 percent. A policyholder can now insure 56 percent more in terms of property values by only paying 24 percent more in premiums.
Currently, there are 58,000 Mine Subsidence Insurance policies that cover $8.7 billion in property. In 2002, there were only 53,000 policies covering just $5.1 billion in property value.
For more information, visit DEP's Mine Subsidence Insurance Program webpage.

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