ARIES, in cooperation with the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME), sponsored the 2015 Environmental Considerations in Energy Production Conference (ECEP) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania September 20- 23, 2015. See the full conference agenda at www.ariesevents.org.
Watch a video of the conference highlights:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Title: Conference Highlights Next Steps in Energy and Environment in Appalachia
Blacksburg, VA, October 30, 2015
Energy and environmental researchers, regulators, executives, and leaders converged in Pittsburgh Sept. 20 – 23, 2015 at the Appalachian Research Initiative’s Environmental Considerations in Energy Production Conference to hash out the environmental practices, needs, and upcoming circumstances for energy production in Appalachia.
Low Gas Prices and Regulation May Impact Coal Production in Appalachia
The main topic of several presentations and many conversations included the future outlook for coal production or coal mine use in Appalachia as well as the effects of low gas prices both on the coal industry and on future gas production.
Echoed through several industry leader presentations was the role of the low gas price in the Marcellus Shale Play in the current downturn in the Appalachian coal industry. With the current abundance of gas and its low price, it is cheaper to burn gas than to burn coal. In addition, industry leaders discussed the impact of the Environmental Protection Agency’s ongoing regulation of the generation of electricity by both coal and gas.
Additional industry discussion included the gap between the Henry Hub (the industry standard) price of gas and the price of gas in the Marcellus Shale Play itself, usually a $1.50 difference. The low price of gas in the Marcellus region itself hangs heavily on pipeline development and the ability to move gas out from the Marcellus.
Discussion by both industry leaders and academics also focused on the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s new stream protection rule, which may disproportionately affect the potential for all coal mining in Appalachia. Due to Appalachia’s geographic and geologic features and the requirements of the rule, mining in Appalachia may become too complex to recover cost, thereby shuttering the region’s coal industry.
Industry leaders also pointed to the need to get ahead of the curve on anticipating environmental regulatory needs.
Appalachian States Would Do Well to Follow Wyoming Model
Cameron Nazminia, policy advisor on energy for the State of Wyoming, highlighted the regulation and enforcement of environmental considerations in that state. The State of Wyoming is proactive regarding anticipating environmental protection needs–working with researchers to assess impact, working with industry to assess processes, and then implementing laws and plans. Rather than waiting for federal regulation for enforcement guidelines, Wyoming convenes industry decision makers, researchers, policymakers, and politicians to get ahead of the curve on environmental protection at the state level. The result of this proactive rather than reactive stance has been a first mover advantage in several key cases in which the federal government ruled that to duplicate State of Wyoming regulation would be redundant.
For example, the State of Wyoming acted prior to the federal government on issues such as protection and plans for the Greater Sage Grouse, disclosure on hydraulic fracturing chemicals, baseline water sampling guidelines, and a range of issues of reclamation.
Agriculture Contributes to Carbon Loss but Also Can Provide Carbon Capture
Karl Thidemann of Soil4Climate discussed the long-term effects of agriculture in producing excess atmospheric carbon dioxide and its potential for recapturing CO2 back into the soil. Smokestack capture and storage of CO2 in subterranean geological features may play a significant role in this regard, however, to drawdown the legacy carbon already in the air, agroecological or “carbon farming” methods (e.g., no-till, regenerative grazing, remineralization, and the use of compost and biochar) can be implemented.
Such practices improve land fertility, increase rain infiltration, prevent flooding, and improve drought resilience and sequester vast amounts of atmospheric carbon in the form of soil organic matter. If implemented at the required global scale, this shift in how land is managed would transform agriculture away from its present role as a leading contributor to climate change and toward it as a vital practice to remove carbon from the air.
Acid Mine Drainage Used to Treat Waste Water
Dr. William Strosnider of the Saint Francis University (PA) Environmental Engineering program presented a new approach to treating acid mine drainage and sewage together without using energy or chemicals. Acid mine drainage, the water flowing from abandoned and active coal mining operations, is common throughout Appalachia. Poorly treated sewage is also common in some rural areas of Appalachia.
More sustainable treatment options are necessary to allow for the water quality improvements of the past few decades to continue into the future. Treating these wastes together has recently been proved possible by the research group led by Dr. Strosnider.
Rare Earth Elements Available in Many US Coal Basins
Mr. Thomas Gray, PE of Tetra Tech, Inc., together with H.T. Andersen, PhD, Rex Bryan, PhD, Dave Richers, PhD, and the US Department of Energy’s Pete Rozelle, PhD and Morgan Mosser assessed Rare Earth Elements (REE) contents in US coal basins for the US Department of Energy in 2014. REEs are important strategic materials utilized in many high-technology applications including defense and renewable energy. Production of REEs currently is dominated by China. Publicly available data from the USGS were used to determine that REEs are present in many coal basins of the United States.
Study results conclude that REE occurrence in coal and associated waste materials has the potential of being a domestic source of rare earths and could add a new revenue stream to existing coal mining operations.
Newborn Health and Energy Production (Coal Mining)
Dr. Steven Lamm at the Center for Epidemiology and Environmental Health in Washington, DC and Hamid Ferdosi of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University examined studies that report an increase in (1) birth defects and (2) low birth weight in newborns of residents of counties with mountain-top mining (MTM) activities. Examination of the underlying data has shown that the initial results reflected (1) peculiar distributions in hospital use and (2) the increased prevalence of tobacco use among mothers who live in those counties. Analysis revealed that when the data were adjusted for hospital of birth, no increased prevalence was observed and that within hospitals, the rates were not different for mothers from MTM counties and mothers from non-mining counties. The study of newborn weight is dependent on the newborn’s age at birth.
Analysis showed that the increased risk of being small-for-gestational age (SGA) was limited to the newborns of women who continued to smoke in the third-trimester and was no different for mothers from MTM counties and mothers from non-mining counties.
About the Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Science
Since 2011, the Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Science (ARIES) has supported more than 75 academic researchers in energy and the environment and over 90 student researchers at Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, West Virginia University, the University of Kentucky, Ohio State University, Marshall University, St. Francis University, the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, and consultants at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown.
ARIES grew out of an urgent need for a holistic group to engage in transdisciplinary research on the environmental and community impacts of energy production in OH-PA-KY-VA-WV. More about ARIES at http://www.energy.vt.edu/aries/
Contact ARIES at Dr. John Craynon, (540) 231 9462.