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Residents Concerned Proposed Mine Could Hurt Water Quality

Amy Sisk
StateImpact Pennsylvania

The company behind a new coal mine in Somerset County intends to open another in the area, and some residents worry the new operation could hurt their water quality.

The Keyser underground mine would produce metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel. Wilson Creek Energy, a subsidiary of Corsa Coal Corp., is seeking permits from the Department of Environmental Protection to begin operations.

Residents expressed concerns about the company’s plans Tuesday at a meeting with agency officials in Somerset County.

Candace Christner said she lost her well water from activity at one of Corsa Coal’s nearby mines.

The company tried to drill a new well, she said, but it didn’t produce clean water. So Corsa Coal ended up supplying her with a large water tank for more than two years until she could get hooked up to public water, she said.

“They weren’t a very good neighbor, and I just have concerns other people will have to experience what we experienced,” Christner said.

Representatives from Corsa Coal did not attend the meeting, and the company did not respond to a request for comment.

Joel Koricich, district mining manager for the DEP’s California district mining office, said the company would be required to foot the bill for a new water source if it harms a resident’s water supply.

He said the local watershed is already considered impaired from past mining activity. That impaired status would affect how the company treats water from its proposed mine.

“It's been beat up so much in the past that folks aren't allowed to discharge any more contaminants to it,” Koricich said. “So they get these really strict limits, in fact it's the strictest limits you can have.”

Those limits put a cap on the level of metals that can exist in water from the mine. The levels cannot be exceeded if the treated water is to flow into another body of water, like a river.

Still, the long history of contamination in the region weighed on the minds of some in attendance.

“This is already an impaired watershed, and just the idea that we would allow another mine here to potentially damage that and create more discharges is an irresponsible thing to do,” said Ashley Funk, a community organizer with local advocacy group Mountain Watershed Association.

The DEP estimates it could take a year for the agency to finalize permitting decisions for the Keyser mine.

The company’s Acosta mine, also in Somerset County, opened to much fanfare in June after it garnered a mention from President Donald Trump when he announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement.

Though Corsa Coal’s mines are opening at a time when other coal mines are shutting down, their metallurgical coal is meant for a different market.

Cheap natural gas and renewable power have emerged as competitors to coal-fired electricity, and coal mines across Pennsylvania and the country have been closing.

StateImpact Pennsylvania is a collaboration between WESA, Allegheny Front, WITF, and WHYY to cover the commonwealth’s energy economy. Read more stories at StateImpact Pennsylvania's website.

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