Court Orders Mining Companies to Continue Treating Polluted Mine Water

Source: 
Pennsylvania Office of the Governor

On behalf of Gov. Mark Schweiker, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Pennsylvania Secretary David E. Hess has announced that Commonwealth Court has issued an injunction that orders the operator of 15 closed bituminous coal operations in Clearfield and Centre counties to continue the treatment of polluted water coming from those mines.

The mines, operated under Al Hamilton Contracting Company, Bradford Mining Company and Manor Mining and Contracting Corporation, are discharging an estimated 173 million gallons of polluted mine water a year.

"We brought this action because company officials said they did not have the funds to continue mine-water treatment, while at the same time they were selling off company assets," Secretary Hess said. "We are pleased the court granted our request to continue treating the mine water, ending, for now, a serious threat to Pennsylvania's waterways."

DEP filed the action in Commonwealth Court on July 8 after company officials said they would cut off treatment at the end of July.

DEP also filed administrative orders on June 27 to require continued mine- water treatment at two of these closed mines as part of a coordinated series of enforcement steps to gain the cooperation of the mining companies.

Should treatment stop, the polluted water would significantly threaten several waterways within the Upper West Branch Watershed, including Shimmel Run, which has a native trout population, and Mountain Branch, a stocked trout stream that is home to a backup water intake for Houtzdale Municipal Water Authority. Both streams flow into Moshannon Creek, which is a tributary of the west branch of the Susquehanna River.

"We stand ready to work with the mining companies involved to establish a trust fund they would finance to provide for the permanent treatment of the discharges," Secretary Hess said. "Other mining companies in similar circumstances have made these kinds of arrangements to fulfill their treatment obligations, and we hope that is the outcome here."

DEP estimates it would require at least $6 million to establish a trust fund for permanent treatment. The companies involved originally posted just over $4 million in bonds for the areas they mined, which would be forfeited and applied toward maintaining the pollution controls if the companies stop treating the drainage.

Al Hamilton Contracting Company operated 13 of the sites in question, Bradford Coal Company operated a coal processing plant and Manor Mining and Contracting Corp. operated an underground mine. Some of the mines date as far back as the early 1970s; however, they are all currently closed. The last to close was the Manor Mining underground facility, which closed two years ago.

All except one of the mines are located in Clearfield County. The remaining mine is located in Rush Township, Centre County.

The companies operate both passive and conventional discharge-treatment systems at the sites. If electricity is shut off, the sites with the conventional systems are in the most immediate danger of causing pollution because water pumps and other equipment would stop running. The passive system sites would continue to treat drainage for an undetermined amount of time.

Acid mine drainage occurs when rain or ground water enters a mine site and comes in contact with pyrite in coal or coal refuse. The water then becomes contaminated with various heavy metals and becomes highly acidic, and, as it drains out of the mine, becomes a threat to the local watershed.

For more information on acid mine drainage, visit the PA PowerPort at www.state.pa.us, PA Keyword: "mine reclamation."

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