Pennsylvania residents can now log on to internet to locate underground mines

Cropped portion of the Pennsylvania Mine Map Atlas, an initiative of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Penn State's Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access Program.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Mine Map Atlas is a new initiative of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection  and Penn State’s Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access Program.

This web-based mapping application and downloadable data allow residents and stakeholders to see detailed underground mine maps that were once only available in hard copies. It not only allows homeowners to view previously unavailable mine maps, but also allows them to see their home’s proximity to the nearest underground mine.

The impetus for the project began almost 10 years ago when the DEP approached PASDA about the possibility of providing public access to their underground mine maps.

Tragedy

This was, in part, a result of the Quecreek Mine Rescue that occurred in Somerset County. On July 24, 2002, 18 miners accidentally tunneled into an adjacent abandoned mine and nine of them became trapped by the millions of gallons of water that proceeded to rush in.

After 78 hours of desperate escape attempts and hopeless notes scrawled for loved ones, the miners were finally found and pulled to safety. The accident led to a strong push at the DEP to provide access to the underground mine maps, which were primarily in paper.

By September 2012, the DEP had scanned thousands of these maps into digital form and were ready to provide them to PASDA. PASDA, a program funded by the Governor’s Office of Administration Geospatial Technologies Office and supported by Penn State’s Institutes of Energy and the Environment provides access to the data via FTP and via the Pennsylvania Mine Map Atlas.

Underground mine maps

By May 2013 the California, Pa., office of the DEP provided PASDA with the first 15,000 digital maps, and PASDA began providing public access to downloadable versions of the maps. This project, which is ongoing, will eventually provide access to approximately 60,000 underground mine maps.

The Pennsylvania Mine Map Atlas will eventually provide access to approximately 60,000 underground mine maps. “Since this project just started a few months ago, we do have the mapper out there, and we have thousands of maps that are available through it, but there are probably another 40,000 that we’re going to get,” said Maurie Kelly, director of PASDA. The Pennsylvania Mine Map Atlas — launched May 6 — includes features such as address search, latitude and longitude search, measurement tools and a transparency setting that allows viewers to see mine maps on top of aerial photos, road maps, topographic maps or terrain maps.

No insurance

Mine subsidence, the movement of the ground surface as a result of the collapse or failure of underground mine workings, causes millions of dollars of damage each year, yet it is not included in standard home insurance policies. Pennsylvania residents will now be able to take precautions. The mine map’s features will allow homeowners to make more informed decisions about home insurance.

For those homes on or near an undermined area, the DEP recommends Mine Subsidence Insurance (MSI), which protects owners from damage caused by mine subsidence.

“Previously, people would have to go to DEP offices to see if there are any maps under there, and it was a long process. It wasn’t something you could do immediately, but now people can go on the website, and they know right away where the underground mines are located.”

Mine engineering

Though it is still a work in progress, the mine map project is timely. It was launched shortly before the subsidence events in Mount Oliver, Pa.; where on the afternoon of July 12 several homes in began shifting on their foundations. Twenty homes were ultimately evacuated. Within Penn State, the atlas is expected to be used extensively in the mining engineering program. Particular emphasis is being placed on incorporating it into students’ capstone projects.

“Capstone design is the final course that incorporates and integrates all of the previous courses as far as design,” said Jamal Rostami, associate professor of energy and mineral engineering and interim program officer for mining engineering. For their capstone project, students work in teams of two to three either to develop plans for a new mine, plan for the continuation of an active mine or evaluate an old mine’s condition for potential acquisition. “They have to go through everything from initial evaluation, environmental permitting, looking at its social demographic issues, looking at workers and workforce training … to reserve estimation and then mine planning and scheduling, and finally cost estimation,” said Rostami.

Uncovering information

The atlas will help students to look at the other mines and properties surrounding the mine under study, as well as to uncover information about the mine’s history, nearby infrastructure and workforce.

“For us, as far as education, this tool means we can actually bring this home to the students in our program as well as those who are not mining majors,” said Rostami. “If I include it in my Introduction to mining course, I can just flash that atlas on the screen and say, ‘Hey, look guys … you may not even know but there are so many mines around you.’”

Kelly echoed Rostami’s opinion of the educational value of the mine map atlas. “It’s obviously a real public service; it’s something people can freely access, and they have access to it at any time, 24 hours a day,” Kelly said. “But it also has this educational component, just so that people in general in Pennsylvania understand our mining history.”

Ultimately, though, it is a matter of helping the people of the state like those in Mount Oliver. “In a way I feel like this also honors the people that worked in those mines,” Kelly said. “In a way I feel like this also honors the people that worked in those mines.” — Maurie Kelly, director of PASDA Gov.

Data storage

Other members of the PASDA team include Ryan Baxter, information technology coordinator and doctoral candidate in geography; James Spayd, data systems coordinator, who developed the mapping application; Scott Dane, data manager, who organized the data; and Penn State’s High Performance Computing Center, which provides storage for the data.

The PA Mine Map Atlas is a three-year project and is expected to be completed in 2015. The project was funded by the Surface Mining Conservation and Reclamation’s general operations budget.

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