Friday, September 30, 2011

Longwall underground coal mining causing more property damage in southwestern Pennsylvania

"A surge in mining damage to waterways, houses and roads has sparked a fierce debate in southwestern Pennsylvania's coal region about whether regulations are strong enough to protect property and natural resources," Manuel Quinones of Greenwire reports for The New York Times.

The concern is about longwall mining, which "shears coal away from underground seams in massive panels that are generally hundreds of feet thick and a mile or so long," Quinones writes, noting that it "produces some 40 percent of all coal from U.S. underground mines, up from 5 percent in 1980," and more than three-fourths of the deep-mine coal in Pennsylvania.

Residents of Greene and Washington counties say longwall mining "has damaged buildings, sucked water from ponds and streams and cracked roads," Quinones reports. Some say it ruptured a dam, leaving a state-park lake dry; that issue is in court, but "A University of Pittsburgh study this year found that from 2003 to 2008 reported land damage from longwall operations increased 86 percent and building damage increased 31 percent over damage reported the previous five-year period."

Some residents say a state law "aimed at addressing problems caused by longwall mining and making sure companies help prevent problems, repair damage or compensate residents . . . is not strong enoug," Quinones writes. "State officials and mining industry representatives disagree. They do not deny that longwall mining is causing damage, but they maintain the system is working to ensure repairs or proper compensation." Environmentalists, such as Ben Stout, a biology professor at Wheeling Jesuit University, say longwall mines can cause permanent damage to streams, and members of the area's Citizens Coal Council say "threats to property and the environment are driving away coal-region natives," Quinones reports.

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