The Pittsburgh Geological Society & ASCE Geo-Institute of Pittsburgh
Peter R. Michael, PG
On October 11, 2000, an estimated 306 million gallons of water and coal waste slurry drained from an impoundment in Martin County, eastern Kentucky into an adjacent underground coal mine. Approximately 230 million gallons of the water and slurry discharged from two mine portals and affected over 75 miles of streams in Kentucky and West Virginia. In response to this and several other similar events over just half a decade, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and other institutions undertook investigations to assess: the causes of the events; the potential for additional breakthroughs in the future; available methods for preventing them; and the effectiveness of state and federal regulatory programs in ensuring that adequate preventative measures are utilized by impoundment designers and operators. Several studies are sited in the hollows of Appalachia where numerous coal seams and steep topography combine to result in large numbers of mined coalbeds intersecting and underlining impounding facilities. Key factors under consideration include:
(1) full accounting of all mineable coal seams intersecting and underlying the impoundment;
(2) identification and accurate location of underground mines close enough to the facility to potentially affect its stability;
(3) assessment of the stability of coal barriers between the impoundment and adjacent mines and stability of roof rock and pillars in mines subjacent to a facility;
(4) determination of the flowability of the impounded slurry when expanding or undermining the facility are being considered; and
(5) special measures undertaken to reduce breakthrough potential when necessary.
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