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Abandoned Coal Mine Drainage Projects in Pennsylvania

During 200 years of coal mining, Pennsylvania produced more than 25 percent of the nation's total coal output and presently ranks fourth in the nation in annual coal production by state. Coalfields are included within, or extend into, the four major river basins in Pennsylvania--the Ohio, Susquehanna, Potomac, and Delaware River Basins. Bituminous coal deposits underlie western and north-central Pennsylvania, and anthracite deposits underlie east-central and northeastern Pennsylvania (figure 1). Pennsylvania's bituminous coal is used primarily for electric-power generation; anthracite coal is used for electric-power generation and home heating.

Figure 1.--Bituminous and anthracite coal fields in Pennsylvania

Drainage from thousands of abandoned coal mines has contaminated more than 3,000 miles of streams and associated ground waters in Pennsylvania and is the most extensive water-pollution problem affecting the four major river basins in Pennsylvania. Because coal-mine drainage can contain toxic concentrations of acidity, metals, and sediment, many of the mining impacted streams contain "no fish" (figure 2). Consequently, Pennsylvania loses approximately $67 million annually that could be generated if sport fishing were restored in the affected streams. The estimated cost for restoring the damaged watersheds is $5 billion to $15 billion.

Figure 2.--Streams and fisheries impacted by coal-mine drainage in Pennsylvania (From U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

About half of the coal-mine discharges in Pennsylvania are acidic, with pH <5 (figure 3a; figure 3b). Generally, limestone or other calcareous strata that could neutralize acid are lacking or deficient at sites that produce acidic mine drainage (AMD). Although abandoned underground mines produce most of the AMD, some recently mined and reclaimed surface mines have produced AMD and have degraded local groundwater and surface-water resources. Acidic water produced at active mines must be neutralized to achieve pH 6-9 before discharge from a mine site to a stream is permitted.


Figure 3a.--pH of bituminous coal-mine discharges in Pennsylvania

Figure 3b.--pH of anthracite coal-mine discharges in Pennsylvania

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