Mine Pools Pose Risks

Morgantown Dominion Post
23 December 2014

Morgantown Dominion Post Editorial

Some will call it a new front on the so-called “war on coal.”

But for many, it’s just another dark legacy that’s flowed out of our region for decades.

This past week, the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement released a report that warns underground mine pools could pose a serious threat to the Potomac River.

The report’s focus was on the North Branch, whose source is at the junction of Grant, Preston and Tuckers counties, of the Potomac River Mine Pool.

That mine pool covers 12 already flooded underground mine pools beneath the Potomac.

In a separate assessment, the report’s authors also studied the Fairmont Mine Pool, eight large and some smaller flooded mines underneath the Monongahela River.
All together, the Potomac and Monongahela supply drinking water to nearly 5 million people.

The threat from these flooded mine pools is the concentrations of iron, sulfate and total dissolved solids (TDS) that collect in their waters.

The reports note those concentrations could pollute surface and groundwater in these watersheds.

We’re quite familiar with pollution from abandoned mine pools’ runoff. Matter of fact, miles of a nearby stream — Deckers Creek — have been devoid of most aquatic life for as long as most of us have been alive.

Other such waterways, ranging from the Buckhannon River to Dunkard Creek, have recent and past experience with mine drainage that has degraded watersheds.

Drainage issues from mines are not easily or cheaply resolved. In most instances, it requires virtually eternal monitoring of the pool’s elevation and concentrations of pollutants and ensuing treatment of its runoff.

If water levels would rise suddenly and significantly in these major mine pools, the resulting flows into major waterways, such as the Potomac and the Monongahela rivers, pose serious risk to the entire water system.

The effects of large concentrations of iron, sulfate and TDS on humans are not raised in these reports. However, judging by the effects on the life in waterways during such incidents it’s obvious it would be hazardous to our health, if not fatal.

Though the report does call for monitoring these mine pools, it does not provide any mechanism or set up funding for monitoring plans.

We urge our congressional delegation to take note of this report and seek funding for monitoring these pools.

The potential for an overflow or breakout of such mine water is a very real possibility.

It’s critical that we at least know when or where an outburst might occur someday.