Subsidence Still Impacts Streams, [PA] DEP Report Says
Washington PA Observer-Reporter
2 January 2015
By Bob Niedbala, Staff Writer
WAYNESBURG – About 39 miles of stream in Pennsylvania were
impacted by subsidence caused by underground coal mining during a
five-year period ending in August 2013, according to a report
released Tuesday by the state Department of Environmental
Information on streams affected by mining is included in a lengthy
report prepared for DEP by the University of Pittsburgh on the
impacts of underground mine subsidence on surface structures,
water supplies and streams.
The report is the fourth to be completed under Act 54 legislation
passed in 1994, which revised the law on subsidence damage and
required reports, or assessments, to be done every five years on
subsidence impacts. The fourth assessment period covered August
2008 through August 2013.
“This report provides vital information about the significance of
bituminous mining on Pennsylvania’s landscape,” said John
Stefanko, DEP deputy secretary. “We will use this information to
evaluate the effectiveness of our mining program and consider ways
to enhance the program in the future,” he said.
During the fourth assessment period, 31,343 acres of land were
undermined, an 18 percent reduction from the previous assessment
period. The report attributed the decrease in undermined acreage
to reduced coal demand and the extension of the Bailey Mine into
During the period, 40 percent of the undermined land was in Greene
County, 19 percent in Washington County and the remaining 39
percent spread throughout Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Clearfield,
Elk, Indiana, Jefferson and Somerset counties.
Of the 46 mines in operation during the period, seven were highly
efficient longwall mining operations. Five of the longwall mines
operate in Greene County and two in Washington County. One of the
longwall mines in Washington County, Mine 84, closed during the
The report considered impacts to land and buildings, water
supplies and streams. A total of 1,250 incidents involving
subsidence were reported during the fourth assessment period,
about the same number as in the previous period.
Under its contract with DEP, the university said a main focus in
the fourth assessment was to report the effects of mine subsidence
on streams, a concern to both the industry and citizens.
During the fourth assessment period, 96 miles of streams were
undermined. Of that, 51 miles were undermined by longwall mines in
Greene and Washington counties.
“Nearly all reported stream impacts resulted from subsidence
associated with longwall mining,” the report said. The impacts
included pooling and the loss of stream flow.
Because of a change by DEP in the way it tracks stream impacts,
the report said only nine stream investigations were begun during
the fourth assessment period. Four were resolved by the end of the
period. For many of the investigations, the report said stream
flow data submitted by the coal operators was inadequate to assess
whether a stream recovered.
Fourteen final stream recovery reports also were filed by coal
operators with DEP during the period.
Nine streams were released from further monitoring, three remained
under review and two had not recovered, requiring the operator to
conduct “compensatory mitigation,” which involves restoration or
enhancements to another stream in the same or a nearby watershed.
The limited biology data available for the report on the affected
streams indicated adverse impacts to the streams’ aquatic life,
measured by Total Biological Scores, and water quality, the report
“On a positive note, TBS increased over time at sites impacted by
flow loss in the fourth assessment period, albeit slowly,” the
report said. It also noted mitigation involving “gate cutting,”
the restoration of the stream channel by removing areas that
result in pooling, appears to be successful in restoring streams
to pre-mining conditions.
The report included a follow up on the third assessment period,
during which 55 stream investigations were initiated and 51
resolved. Eight of those streams listed as resolved, however, were
found to be “not recoverable,” the report said.
Of the 1,250 incidences of subsidence reported during the period,
389 involved buildings and structures. All but 59 were resolved
during the period. DEP determined that for 238 of those cases
damage was caused by mining and as a result the mining company was
deemed liable, the report said.
The report cited 855 incidents involving impacts to wells, springs
and ponds. By the end of the reporting period, 654 cases were
resolved. Of the resolved cases, 57 percent were determined by DEP
to result from mining and the mine operator was held responsible.
The report also notes 25 percent of the incidents involving water
supplies for which a company was determined to be liable were
outside the “rebuttable presumption zone,” the area above the mine
in which the state assumes any impacts are caused by mining.
The report also for the first time considered mining impacts on
groundwater. It noted, however, that additional monitoring and
analysis must be done to understand more fully the impact of
mining on groundwater supplies.
In regard to wetlands, the report found DEP had been able to
identify more than double the amount of pre-mining wetland acreage
because of improved techniques since the last assessment.
Continued study is required to assess wetland mitigation sites to
make sure they reach their proposed functionality, it said.
The report also found DEP had increased the amount and types of
data required to make permit decisions related to mining and, as a
result of a new technical guidance document, has improved the way
it quantifies and interprets impacts to surface waters.
The report notes, however, DEP’s data management and storage
capabilities must be enhanced and standardized to efficiently
enforce the requirements of Act 54 and its implementing
Patrick Grenter, executive director of the Center for Coalfield
Justice, said he had not yet had time to read the entire report.
“From what I’ve seen, the report clearly shows Act 54 is not in
any way protecting the environment and our most precious resource,
water,” he said.
Where longwall mining is conducted, there remains a “significant
and unavoidable” threat to streams, he said. It’s hard to believe
“they continue to allow these companies to systematically destroy
DEP spokeswoman Lisa Kasianowitz said the report helps the agency
improve its mining program and permitting process. If a coal
operator must mitigate a specific subsidence event, “this helps us
determine the best method,” she said.
It also is a tool with which the department can review its program
and consider what might need to be changed, she said.
The Act 54 report can be viewed on DEP’s website at
www.depweb.state.pa.us. Under keyword, type Act 54