The Mining Process
After the coal mining permit is issued the first thing the mining company does is mark the permit boundaries and put up a mine identification sign. �Then the company builds sediment ponds and berms. This is done to control all surface drainage, so that none leaves the permit area without first passing through a sedimentation pond. Sedimentation ponds allow sediment to settle out of the surface water before being discharged off the disturbed area.
The next step in the mining process involves the removal of topsoil. �The topsoil is removed in a separate layer, then stockpiled for later use. �Once the topsoil and any subsoil is removed, the company will begin digging a box-shaped pit, removing the remaining material above the coal - the overburden or spoil.
Generally all or some of the overburden must be blasted in order to be removed. �The mining company must follow an approved blasting plan that limits ground vibration and air blast to safe levels. �Seismographs are used to monitor each blast and the blasting records are kept by the company for public or Department review.
The overburden from the first pit is stockpiled in an approved location on the permit area. After the overburden is removed, then the coal is removed and taken to a coal processing area on the permit called a coal pad. Once the coal is on the coal pad, then it is crushed to a certain size and stockpiled. Then the coal is loaded, generally onto trucks, to be hauled to the purchaser.
Once the coal is removed from the first pit, then overburden from the next pit is used to fill the previous pit. This process goes on until all the coal on the permit is mined, or all coal that is economically feasible to mine is mined. �At the end of the coal removal process, the overburden from the first pit is used to fill the last pit.
If the owner of the land wants the final pit to be left open as a large water impoundment, the company can request permission from the Department to do so. �This impoundment must fill with water and be suitable for the approved post-mining land use.
Once all pits are back filled, the area is graded so that the contours of the land match the pre-mining contours as much as possible. �Then the topsoil is replaced evenly over the disturbed area. After the topsoil is re-spread, it is seeded or sprigged with the approved vegetation and mulched to help prevent erosion until the vegetation is reestablished. �Sometimes the landowner desires the land to be reclaimed with trees or wildlife plantings. �After the area is seeded or sprigged, the company must maintain the area for a minimum of five years before receiving final bond release. �The land is then returned to the landowner's control.