DEP completes report on effects of underground mining in Western Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Department of Environmental Protection announced the results of a supplemental report on the surface effects of underground coal mining over a five-year period in Western Pennsylvania.

“This report is part of a comprehensive effort to study and document the effects of underground mining, using accepted scientific methods,” said Jeffrey Jarrett, deputy secretary for Mineral Resources Management. “We completed the first report on the effects of underground mining in 1999. This report supplements that effort, following through on our commitment to providing additional information and addressing unresolved issues about damage claims that originated during five years of underground mining.

“We confirmed reports of damage to 173 more properties in a 61-square-mile study area than were documented in 1999, but the percentage of undermined properties with damage decreased from 59 percent to 48 percent. Seventy percent of the properties with damage have been restored or otherwise resolved to the satisfaction of the property owners, compared with 58 percent in the original report. The remainder are in the process of being resolved or lack sufficient details despite DEP’s efforts to collect information from the property owner.”

The study.

The study area included 1,884 properties that were undermined between August 1993 and August 1998 in 10 counties – Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler, Cambria, Clearfield, Greene, Indiana, Jefferson, Somerset and Washington. During this time period, 39,000 acres (61 square miles) were undermined. Property owners reported water-supply impacts, structure damage and land damage.

To prepare the supplemental report, DEP attempted to contact those property owners who had not responded to previous surveys or had unresolved claims from the 1999 report.

Using this additional data, DEP was able to confirm that damage occurred on nearly half of the properties in the study area, but that mine operators are complying with their responsibilities under the law to restore properties and repair damage. The property owners in the study area reported 678 cases of water impacts, 352 cases of structure damage and 188 cases of land damage. Some property owners reported multiple impacts.

Resolving impacts.

Of the 678 reports of water-supply impacts, 500 (74 percent) have been resolved to the satisfaction of the property owners. In the 352 cases of structure damage, 252 (72 percent) have been resolved. Of the 188 land-damage cases, 117 (62 percent) have been resolved.

Mine operators have responded to these impacts by providing temporary and replacement water supplies, repairing land and structure damage, and compensating property owners. In 81 (7 percent) of the damage reports, DEP was unable to obtain details regarding settlement status.

To better understand the effects of different underground mining methods, the supplemental report delineates damage caused by high-extraction, or longwall, mining and the older room-and-pillar mining method.

Of the properties where damage was reported, 65 percent were above longwall mines. DEP has started three additional independent scientific studies to focus on issues of more specific concern. The studies will evaluate the effects of mine subsidence on streams; wetlands and riparian areas; forestland; and property values.

Act 54.

Under the 1994 amendments to the Commonwealth’s Bituminous Mine Subsidence and Land Conservation Act (Act 54), mine operators are responsible for repairing or compensating for damages to certain structures and water supplies caused by underground mining. Prior to these amendments, only certain structures built before 1966 had to be protected from the effects of underground mining.

The law specifies the procedures for resolving damage claims between the mine operator and property owner. The act requires DEP to assess the effects of underground mining every five years. The 1999 report was the first one ever completed under the act.

To read the supplemental report, a summary or the full 1999 report, visit DEP through the Pa. PowerPort at www.state.pa.us or directly at www.dep.state.pa.us (directLINK “Act 54″). For printed copies of the reports, write to Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Mining and Reclamation, Rachel Carson State Office Building, P.O. Box 8461, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8461, call 717-783-8845 or e-mail harmiller@state.pa.us.

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