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Moving Mountains: WVU engineers lead project to reclaim mine refuse site in West Virginia

Royal Scot mine site in Greenbrier County

(Pictured left to right) WVDEP Regional Engineer Nathan Parks, Assistant Professor Leslie Hopkinson, Director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute Paul Ziemkiewicz, and WVU graduate student Jeff Stevens at the Royal Scot mine site in Greenbrier County. (Submitted photo)

A 10-year research project to restore a 40-acre abandoned mine refuse site nestled atop the mountains of Greenbrier County is in its final stages of development thanks to the work of civil engineers at West Virginia University, local and state government organizations and industry partners. 

Story by Olivia Miller, Communications Specialist

Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.—

The ambitious project led by Associate Professors John Quaranta and Leslie Hopkinson in the Wadsworth Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, and Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute, a program of WVU’s Energy Institute, utilizes a reclamation technique called Geomorphic Landform Design to mitigate acid mine drainage originating from the waste pile.

The acid mine drainage generated from the site has been costing the state of West Virginia nearly a quarter of a million dollars to treat each year, the researchers said.

Quaranta explained the philosophy behind GLD is to balance the erosive and resistive forces of the site in order to recontour the land as nature would have created the environment. Landforms are designed, in part, to mimic the natural landscape.  

“This site is unique because it’s on a mountain top,” Quaranta said. “Coal refuse was hauled in, which contained pyritic materials, and when it mixed with the rainwater infiltration, it generated acid mine drainage.”

Quaranta added that because the Royal Scot mine site had been previously surface mined and stacked with refuse, it was challenging to control the groundwater flow, opening up multiple pathways for rainwater to infiltrate and escape out of the pile and contaminate nearby waterways.

After approximately five years of studying the topography of West Virginia and visiting countless state parks with the assistance of numerous undergraduate and graduate students, the researchers were able to identify Appalachian landforms to produce a new terrain design using computer modeling for the decommissioned refuse site to minimize precipitation infiltration and centralize the surface flow of water into controlled channels to reduce acid mine drainage production inside the refuse pile. 

The researchers explained that because of the rough and mountainous terrain in central Appalachia, with steep slopes and stability issues, this technique has not yet been widely implemented in eastern coal-producing regions but has been successful in other parts of the world.

“We combined components of traditional reclamation with elements of geomorphic landform design to demonstrate that the technique can be used successfully in Appalachia,” Hopkinson said.

In March, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Special Reclamation began the arduous task of reshaping the piles of refuse to fit the design created by engineers at WVU. Once completed, Hopkinson explained that the newly formed mountains will be capped with a grass mixture that utilizes excess wood paper pulp from regional sawmills.

The team has already been awarded additional funding to work with WVDEP and the U.S. Department of Interior Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement Applied Sciences Program to apply the same method to similar locations in the state.  

“This project has a huge impact,” Quaranta said. “This will help the regional engineering firms take on a different philosophy with the DEP as well. So, there’s a technology transfer component that has gone on as well — numerous presentations, posters, publications, seminars — that have all been part of transitioning this work into the applied engineering community.”

Progress of their project will be documented in this video series from West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.


-WVU-

om/05/13/21

Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit

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Email: EngineeringWV@mail.wvu.edu
Phone: 304-293-4135