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Based on EC’s original Land Use Plan, 4,000 acres of abandoned mineland required reclamation.  It’s a lengthy and expensive process.  However, by repairing the damage, environmental rehabilitation and positive, productive reuse of the land can result.

Home / Our Work / Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation



Date:  In-Progress
Location:  City of Nanticoke, Hanover Township, Newport Township
Funded By:  US Environmental Protection Agency, PA Department of Environmental Protection, Earth Conservancy


Date:  2015
Location:  Warrior Run Borough
Funded By:  US Environmental Protection Agency, Earth Conservancy


Date:  2015
Location:  Hanover Township
Funded By:  Northampton Generating Company


Date:  2014
Location:  City of Nanticoke, Hanover Township
Funded By:  US Environmental Protection Agency, PA Department of Environmental Protection, Earth Conservancy


Date:  2011
Location:  Hanover Township
Funded By:  Earth Conservancy, PA Department of Community & Economic Development


Date:  2009
Location:  Hanover Township
Funded By:  Earth Conservancy, US Environmental Protection Agency


Date:  2009
Location:  City of Nanticoke, Hanover Township
Funded By:  US Environmental Protection Agency, Earth Conservancy


Date:  2006
Location:  Hanover Township
Funded By:  PA Department of Environmental Protection, PA Department of Community & Economic Development, Luzerne County, Earth Conservancy


Date:  2006
Location:  Sugar Notch Borough
Funded By:  PA Department of Environmental Protection, Earth Conservancy


Date:  2002
Location:  Hanover Township
Funded By:  PA Department of Environmental Protection, Earth Conservancy


Anthracite Mining in Northeastern PA

There are two primary types of coal in Pennsylvania: bituminous and anthracite. Bituminous coal is fairly common. Mined mostly in western Pennsylvania, it has a carbon content of 75-85% and is used in widely in energy production and manufacturing. Anthracite coal is much rarer. Its carbon content is 86% or more, making it a cleaner, hotter, and longer burning fuel. For that reason, anthracite was the fuel of choice during America’s Industrial Revolution.

The importance of this to northeastern Pennsylvania? Northeastern PA holds the largest known deposits of anthracite coal in the world. The first mine in the Wyoming Valley was established in 1775. Deep mining was the first mode of extraction: Miners decended into the earth via vertical shafts, then dug horizontal tunnels to reach the coal. Strip mining, where mountainsides are simply blasted away to expose the coal, also occurred.

And as combustion technology, mining techniques, and transportation systems matured, demand exploded. In the northern coalfield, hundreds of collieries ran along both sides of the Susquehanna and Lackawanna Rivers. At the center of most was a breaker. These hulking structures were processing hubs, where coal was split, washed, and sorted. Burnable coal went to market; castoffs were piled into giant waste piles, aka, culm banks. By the early 1900s, over 1 million tons of coal were being culled annually for distribution along the east coast.

By the mid-1900s, however, the mining industry was in decline. The tragic Knox Mine disaster in 1959 expedited the end when a tunnel dug underneath the Susquehanna River near Pittston collapsed. Twelve miners were killed and miles of underground mines were flooded. In the wake of the accident, Knox Coal closed. Other companies followed suit, succumbing to financial woes or safety concerns. While strip mining persisted, its profability dwindled. For the most part, by the 1970s, the once-booming era of anthracite mining in northeastern Pennsylvania had come to a close

Why Reclaim?

Northeastern Pennsylvania takes great pride in its mining heritage. Anthracite fueled America’s Industrial Revolution, and the industry attracted and provided for thousands. Nevertheless, the industry left behind a grim landscape. Pennsylvania holds the most abandoned mine lands (AML) in the entire US. That’s over 250,000 acres across 45 counties riddled with environmental and safety hazards, like spoil piles (aka culm banks), highwalls, deep pits, remnant shafts and structures, and sparse vegetation. Associated water pollution and flow obstructions affect more than 5,000 miles of Pennsylvania waterways.

Deep mines also risk subsidence, the ground sinking – sometimes catastrophically – when the old, underground tunnels collapse. Mine fires are another concern. No matter how a mine fire starts, once ignited, it will burn until its fuel source is used up. For instance, EC’s Laurel Run mine fire has been burning since 1915. For an excellent overview, featuring the Pennsylvania town of Centralia, read “Fire in the Hole” from The Smithsonian Magazine.

Although many in the region have become accustomed to AMLs, these sites must be addressed. They will not improve without intervention. Through reclamation, EC seeks to mitigate the effects of historic mining practices and improve the region’s environmental and economic health.

EC's Work

Since purchasing the holdings of the Blue Coal Corporation in 1994, EC has reclaimed over 2,000 the 4,000 acres identified as mine-scarred in the Land Use Plan. However, reclamation is expensive – starting around $25,000/acre – and a lengthy process. Grant cycles can take more than a year and, even if an award is received, many preliminary steps must occur before earthwork begins, including procurement of consultants and contractors, site assessment and surveying, and development of engineering plans and specifications. Permits also must be obtained, often taking 8 months or longer.

Once these steps are completed, then reclamation can begin. Although it varies by project, work usually involves grading of spoil materials through a “cut and fill” process. Swales and basins may be built to manage stormwater during and after contruction. Many times, the area is “capped” with topsoil to improve soil health. After this, the entire area is seeded to stabilize the soil, prevent future erosion, and restore habitat. Depending on the site’s intended use, EC also has done tree plantings.

Paying for Reclamation

EC relies on multiple funding streams to support its work. This includes land sales, loans, and the sale of timber, topsoil, and culm. Mostly, however, we rely on grants. Regardless the funder – federal, state, county, corporate, or foundation – grants are usually competitive. Sometimes we’re up against hundreds of other applicants nationwide. Grant cycles, moreover, can take over a year from application to award. That’s why EC is so appreciative of the agencies and organizations that have supported us, understanding our ongoing, phased approach in order to meet our long-term vision and goals.

Two of EC’s largest supporters are the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the PA Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP). US EPA funding has come through the Brownfields Cleanup Program, made possible by Congressman Paul Kanjorski’s campaign to add abandoned mine land to the federal definition of brownfields. PA DEP has assisted EC through five key initiatives: the Surface Mining Control & Reclamation Act, the Energy Harvest Program, Growing Greener, the AML Pilot Program, and the recent AML/AMD Program.

The Role of Cogeneration in Reclamation

On some projects, before reclamation begins, spoil piles (aka, culm banks) are re-mined. Historically, the fragments of coal in these piles was worthless, unable to be burned properly with the technology at the time. Today, however, it has regained value. Through a process called cogeneration. What is cogeneration? Think of it as a super-efficient way to squeeze both heat and electricity from coal. This means we not only can clean up the landscape, but also can generate energy in the process. Several other benefits include:

  • Removal of the waste coal pile and the pollution yields
  • Energy production with less emissions than traditional coal-burning methods
  • Generation of an ash byproduct that can be used during land reclamation
  • Recovery of the land for positive reuse.

Presently, seven of EC’s major projects have incorporated resource recovery in their scope of work, with over 20 million tons of coal refuse having been processed. This means that at a 40% recovery rate, 8 million tons were burned in the generation of electricity. Moreover, over 570 acres of legacy mine lands were readied for reclamation and reuse. EC also is managing the re-mining of another 300-acre culm bank – the final large culm bank under EC’s ownership – located within the Pinchot State Forest near Mocanaqua. It’s estimated 3.5 million tons of material eventually will be removed, eliminating many environmental damages from this otherwise pristine mountainside recreational area.

Want to learn more? Head over to the ARIPPA website for more information on cogeneration and its positive impact on Pennsylvania.