(Synergies Between Underground and Surface Mining) 

The various surface and underground mining methods described in Section A rarely exist in a vacuum as single sources of coal production.  Instead, several different forms of mining provide coal to centrally located preparation plant and coal loading facility (such as a railroad car loading facility or “loadout”).   Figure A-23 depicts a typical mining complex in West Virginia.  Figure A-27 is a coal preparation plant and railroad loadout at a mining complex.  

 

 [Photo]

Figure A-27

Typical Appalachian Mining Complex

 

[Photo]

Figure A-28

Coal Preparation Plant and Railroad Loadout at a West Virginia Surface and Underground Mining Complex

 

The use of several different mining methods at a complex is indicative of coal seam characteristics and overburden geology present in West Virginia.  As previously explained in Section A, these factors dictate whether coal seams will be removed using underground or surface mining techniques.  Additionally, the ability to separate impurities from coal mined using surface mining methods “in pit” offsets the higher costs associated with cleaning virtually all the coal from underground mining.  Thus, lower cost surface mining production offsets the higher cost of underground production, making the underground mines associated with mining complexes economically viable.   Surface mines further offset the economic disadvantages of underground mining because of greater flexibility to meet changing market and customer needs.  Surface mines in Appalachia typically extract more than one coal seam and coals can be cleaned and blended in the pit, providing options for coal producers to respond to changing coal markets and customer quality specifications.  Recent reviews by the federal agencies that regulate coal mining have acknowledged the interrelationship between underground and surface mining:  Many mines rely on blending the products of different surface mines or a combination of surface and underground coal to conform with supply contracts for particular coal quality. Also, transportation and coal preparation costs associated with smaller underground mines are sometimes related to the proximity of larger mines with this existing infrastructure. If the infrastructure is not available, a new, smaller mine may not be practical. Therefore, the types and qualities of coal reserves available in various seams, transportation, and coal cleaning facilities may determing mining availability.[1]                  


[1] Programmatic Environnemental Impact Statement Page IV. I-4

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