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Underground fires, toxins in unfunded cleanup of old mines

by Asa Peachey (2019-04-24)

smartphoneThe growing blaze moved the mine to the top of a list of thousands of problem decades-old coal sites in West Virginia awaiting cleanup and vying for limited federal funds. That program was part of an effort to heal the state from the ravages of an industry that once dominated its economy but has fallen on hard times.

5 billion worth of work remains at more than 3,300 sites abandoned by coal companies before 1977, when Congress passed a law establishing a national fund for old cleanups. State officials say $4. (AP Photo/Michael Virtanen)

"West Virginia is right at the top for needs," said Chuck Williams, head of Alabama's efforts and past president of the National Association of Abandoned Mine Lands Programs.

The fire, which may have started with arson, system lightning or a forest fire, smoldered for several years before bursting into flames last July in rural Preston County. 18, 2017 photo, Rob Rice, left, chief of the West Virginia Office of Abandoned Mine Lands and Reclamation, and planner Jonathan Knight check on the smoldering underground fire at a long-abandoned coal mine in Preston County, W.

The sites include old mines that leak acidic water into streams and kill wildlife and dangerous holes that attract children. The fire burned low for several years, then erupted into a bigger fire last summer, moving it to the top of the state's long cleanup list. Tunnels and caverns beneath homes also need to be shored up and new water lines are needed where wells are polluted.

"We have so much need. "Our program exists to abate health and safety hazards," said Rob Rice, chief of the West Virginia Office of Abandoned Mine Lands and Reclamation, which is handling the mine fire. He said Pennsylvania, Kentucky and West Virginia — all states with a mining history that extends back two centuries — account for the lion's share of unfinished work among the 28 states and Indian tribes in the program.

"This whole area has been extensively mined," said Jonathan Knight, riding recently through the exurbs east of Morgantown. Despite being one of the most affected, federal officials have only one-third of West Virginia's proposed cleanup costs on their $7 billion national list of high-priority work.

It's frustrating for us. "

Environmental improvements are a secondary but major benefit, he said. (AP) — An underground coal mine fire burns beneath a sprawling hillside in West Virginia, the pale, acrid smoke rising from gashes in the scarred, muddy earth only a stone's throw from some houses.

3 million from the federal reclamation fund this year, internetnews which is replenished by fees on mining companies. The state will get $23. The mines pay 12 cents per ton of underground coal mined and 28 cents per ton from surface mining, but the funding has dropped the past three years with a downturn in coal production. It will cost about $1 billion just to extinguish all of West Virginia's 43 fires in abandoned mines, according to the state office.

In October, the office spent $209,400 to cut trees and plug holes feeding the fire with oxygen. A planner for the state office, he said housing developments have been built above old mines that many homeowners don't even know about. The state office, smartphone with about 50 staff, is paid from the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund along with the contractors it hires.

The grants also fund water lines to replace polluted wells. "There's more water within mine pools in West Virginia than there is in the lakes of West Virginia," Rice said. Together they close mine portals, extinguish fires, support collapsing hillsides and sinking houses, and treat acidic water leaking out along with dissolved metals. They could have been caused by forest fires, arson, lightning strikes or even old underground explosions that never went completely out.

The need for drainage work won't end for centuries. "

The state program has brought several back to life with new treatment systems. 5 billion in a trust fund expected to pay for any ongoing work needed by 25 states and three Indian tribes to address problems from pre-1977 abandoned coal mines. The federal program has collected more than $10.

"More than 2,500 miles of streams are severely degraded because of mine drainage in West Virginia. It will provide nearly $181 million in fiscal 2017. 5 billion in fees from coal production and distributed more than $8 billion in grants to states and tribes, according to the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

"We continue to discover threats from left-behind mine pits, dangerous highwalls, acid mine drainage that pollutes our water supplies, and hazardous mine openings," federal director Joe Pizarchik said earlier this year.

The federal program is scheduled by law to expire in 2021, leaving behind about $2. Pollution and lurking underground dangers from mining since 1977 fall into a different category because the federal government made them the responsibility of the companies.

They were required to post bonds before opening mines, with the state taking over if they default. About $5 million will be spent to extinguish the Preston County fire, smoldering a stone's throw from houses in a mostly rural area near the hamlet of Newburg. An Obama administration appointee, he resigned effective last week. West Virginia has set aside about $55 million of its grant money received already for continuing water treatment funded by the interest.