Background

Coal mining in the Appalachians occurs via a sequence of events and operations that must be carefully planned, managed, and monitored to control and minimize environmental and human effects. Thus, environmental and community considerations must be integrated into all phases of a mining project, including mine planning, development, operation, closure, reclamation processes and establishment of post-mining land uses. In accordance with this principle, the team members of ARIES will undertake a variety of coordinated research and development activities related to topics of critical concern. Many of the priority topics are presently centered on water quality (e.g., release of contaminants to surface waters and associated impacts on ecosystems) and overall community well-being (e.g., socioeconomic) impacts of coal mining activities.

An initial focus will be placed on objectively evaluating the total effects of coal mining on receiving stream water quality and biotic functions in the affected region. Results will be compared to those associated with other land use factors and temporal and geographic variability. In another series of tasks, efforts will be centered on identifying and managing potential sources of water contaminants. To this end, the ARIES team will study and recommend methods for effectively treating constituents of concern before release or minimizing discharge through alternative water management practice.

Simultaneously, a new set of overburden analytical tools will be developed and calibrated to allow the mine planner to locate, isolate and manage strata that may generate problematic discharge levels of constituents of environmental concern (e.g., TDS and Se). New overburden handling and placement plans and fill designs will also be developed and tested to isolate problematic spoils and minimize water percolation into and through backfills and valley fills. Finally, based on fundamental insights gained from the discharge control studies, the ARIES team will spearhead the engineering development of new mining systems, novel equipment and innovative remediation processes that improve environmental performance and acceptability. Such enabling-technologies are necessary for the successful design, low-cost operation, effective monitoring and long-term safe closure of next-generation mining operations throughout the Appalachian coal region.

In concert with the ongoing mining and water quality related studies, objective and scientifically rigorous regional investigations will be led by the ARIES team to better define the impacts of coal mining activities on human health, socio-economic and overall quality of life impacts. These studies will quantify positive and negative impacts from both short- and long-term perspectives, and will offer recommendations for optimizing community well-being.

Several companies have become industrial affiliate members of ARIES. These are: Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal, Cliffs Natural Resources, CSX, MEPCO, Natural Resource Partners, Norfolk Southern, Patriot Coal Corporation, and TECO. Other industrial partners will likely be added in the future. These partners have provided $15 million over the next 5 years to fund the work of ARIES.

The members of ARIES are committed to ensuring that scientifically-valid studies focus on the problems created by energy production and the means by which these resources may be used for the benefit of our country and economy while protecting the citizens and the environment in Appalachia.