[Note: This post was updated after the Act 54 report was posted on DEP's website late Tuesday afternoon.]
The Department of Environmental Protection Tuesday released the fourth in a series of ongoing reports detailing the effects of surface subsidence related to underground bituminous coal mining in Pennsylvania covering the period between 2008-2013.
The report addresses the effects of underground mining in Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Clearfield, Elk, Greene, Indiana, Jefferson, Somerset and Washington counties.
Forty percent of the streams undermined by deep coal mining (39 of 96 miles) suffered flow loss or pooling that had adverse impacts on aquatic life, pH and conductivity in the streams.
Eight of the 55 stream segments identified as being affected in the 2003-2008 report have yet to recover from the impacts of mining.
There were 855 reported impacts to water supplies from longwall mining: 393 were found to be from longwall mining, 384 from room-and-pillar deep mining, 54 from inactive deep mines and 24 from pillar recovery mining.
In one-third of the cases, the mining company was not found liable for the water loss or contamination.
Despite an 18 percent drop in the number of acres undermined, the number of water supply reported effects has increased by approximately 25 percent (855 from 683).
It took an average of 220 days to resolve water loss/water contamination issues either through permanent replacement water supplies, repair of the water well or agreements for compensation with landowners.
A total of 201 water loss/water contamination cases were not resolved by the end of the 2008-2013 reporting period.
There were 389 cases of reported damage to surface structures of which 238 were determined to be caused by mining: 315 from longwall mining, 48 from room-and-pillar, 19 from inactive deep mines and 7 from pillar recovery mining.
It took an average of 169 days to resolve cases of surface structure damage.
The report also included sections on impacts to wetlands and groundwater.
“This report provides vital information about the significance of bituminous mining on Pennsylvania’s landscape,” DEP Deputy Secretary for Active and Abandoned Mine Operations John Stefanko said. “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 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 percent 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 landowners.
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
— Data management and storage must be enhanced and standardized in order to efficiently enforce the requirements of Act 54 and its implementing regulations.
The report was prepared by the University of Pittsburgh’s Departments of Biological Sciences, Geology and Planetary Science, Civil and Environmental Engineering. The University was selected to conduct the study because it employs faculty and research staff with the expertise to review all aspects of the effects of mining-related subsidence.
Representatives from the university will present their findings to DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council during an upcoming meeting. The meeting is public, and a date will be posted to DEP’s online calendar in the near future.
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.
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.
DEP offers Mine Subsidence Insurance to residents owning property above abandoned mines. Mine subsidence insurance is as affordable as ever, costing about 26 cents a day to insure homes, businesses and other structures.
Currently, there are 58,146 MSI policies that cover approximately $10.34 billion in property.The report is posted on DEP’s Act 54 webpage along with previous reports.