Morgantown, W.Va. — West Virginia University’s Jeff Skousen is widely known for his expertise in the area of mine reclamation. The professor of soil science in WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and land reclamation specialist with the WVU Extension Service, has broken new ground, literally and figuratively, in the realm of restoring sites disturbed by previous mining activity. He and NRCCE colleague Paul Ziemkiewicz will be conducting a new project to address the use of coal combustion byproducts such as ash in mine reclamation in Korea.
While the Mountain State has reaped environmental and economic benefits from
Skousen’s research and educational efforts, his scope hasn’t been limited to the United States. For almost a decade, he’s been helping South Korea deal with its abandoned coal mines.
“South Korea has abundant coal reserves and mineral resources, and the mining industry in Korea has played a major role in economic development since the 1960s,” Skousen said. Coal was used for home heating and power generation.
In the mid 1980s, the mining industry in South Korea started to decline due to the increased labor costs and competition from foreign markets.
“Many mines closed quickly and there were no policies for reclamation and closure of these mines,” Skousen explained. “Over 336 coal mines were closed by 1992. There are approximately 900 abandoned metal mines and over 300 abandoned coal mines in Korea today.” Unlike the US which developed a fund to reclaim abandoned mines in 1977, Korea had no mechanism for reclaiming these lands until recently.
The major problems at these mines are water pollution in the form of acid mine drainage, high metals concentrations and total dissolved solids in runoff water, along with subsidence holes and some high walls, contamination of soils at or adjacent to the mines, and unstable tailings piles.
“Some of these problems are safety hazards to people, but also to human health as it relates to contamination of drinking water and soil resources,” Skousen said. The high rainfall in Korea — 80 to 100 inches per year — provides high potential for landslides, erosion, and water contamination.
Skousen began working with Korean reclamation scientists in 2003, when Jae Yang, a professor at the National University of Korea, visited him in West Virginia. Yang was most interested in learning about passive treatment systems to treat acid mine drainage.
Skousen and Yang spent several days together and they viewed all the different types of treatment systems that had been constructed in West Virginia. While some treatment systems had been constructed in South Korea, Yang took additional passive technologies to Korea and installed more. Today, over 100 treatment systems have been installed.
Skousen was invited to Korea three times to conduct seminars and present symposia. He is scheduled to speak again at the symposium in September 2011.
“Korea and West Virginia (Appalachia) have many common problems in reclamation,” Skousen said. “We both must reclaim subsidence holes that occur due to caving of abandoned underground mines, treat contaminated water by active and passive treatment methods, manage coal waste and tailings piles for revegetation and stabilization, remediate soils which are contaminated by coal and metal mines, and revegetate these areas to grass and trees.” Since then, they have collaborated on studies of mine drainage, coal waste reclamation, and soil contamination.
Skousen and Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at the WVU National Research Center for Coal and Energy, along with Yang, recently received funding for a new project from MIRECO, the Korea Mine Reclamation Corporation. The project involves the use of coal combustion by-products for reclamation.
According to Ziemkiewicz, there are right and wrong ways to use coal ash for mine reclamation. “I’ve seen many places where coal ash has eliminated acid mine drainage and benefited groundwater. There are also sites where careless ash placement in mines just makes a bad situation worse. Jeff and I would like to lend our experience to Korea so that they can maximize the benefits of ash placement in abandoned mines.”
“We hope to establish demonstration sites where fly ashes are used to treat coal waste and other materials that have been left on the surface at abandoned mines. We hope to decrease the amount of contamination of surface and ground water, and to improve the vegetation on these sites.”
CONTACT: Paul Ziemkiewicz, (304) 293-6958
The West Virginia Water Research Institute, a program of the National Research Center for Coal and Energy at West Virginia University, serves as a statewide vehicle for performing research related to water issues. WVWRI is the premiere water research center in West Virginia and, within selected fields, an international leader.