Anthracite, commonly known as hard coal, has been commercially mined and prepared in the Northeast Region of Pennsylvania for more than 150 years. Most Anthracite reserves are found in the five counties of Schuylkill, Carbon, Northumberland, Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties. The Anthracite coal fields extend 50 miles east and west and 100 miles north and south covering approximately 484 square miles. Current estimates show 4 to 6 billion tons of reserves of Anthracite left in the region.
Anthracite is a naturally high carbon, clean burning solid fuel with a typical sulfur content of less than 0.7% and volatile matter of just 4% to 6%. In fact, Anthracite is the cleanest burning solid fuel on the commercial market today. It has a lower a sulfur content than some heavy fuel oils. Its uses range from residential and commercial to industrial carbon and water filtration media.
Like all other sources of energy, anthracite’s heat value is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs). There are about 25 million btus per ton of Anthracite. This is the equivalent of 180 gallons of home heating oil and 260 therms of natural gas. Current estimates show between 300 to 500 years of Anthracite reserves still remain in the ground today.
Anthracite mining and usage has a long history in America. At the turn of the 20th Century, it helped fuel the industrial revolution and to meet the tremendous energy and production demands of two World Wars. At its peak in 1915, the Anthracite industry employed over 177,000 miners. Today, the Anthracite industry employs about 1,000 people and contributes more than $200 million to the region and state economy.
According to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Anthracite Mining Industry employs about 1,000 people. The average wage of an Anthracite coal miner is $45,000 a year. This provides a direct payroll of more than $45 million to the region’s local economies. However, when you factor in employment and services from support industries like engineering, equipment sales and maintenance and financial services, this number swells to more than $100 million to the region and state economy. The Anthracite industry returns millions of dollars to the state and local tax base.Finally, the use of Anthracite decreases our nation’s dependence on foreign oil lowering our trade deficit. According to Penn State University, the mining and use of just one million tons of Anthracite reduces our dependence on foreign oil by 180,000,000 gallons.
Environmental Benefits of Anthracite
Often confused with bituminous or soft coal, Anthracite is naturally high in carbon (86% to 92%) and low in sulfur (less than 0.8%). Because Anthracite is harder than Bituminous coal it has a more consistent burn time and it is virtually smokeless.In addition to its clean air qualities, the mining and use of Anthracite provides the added benefit of reclaiming the regions lands and surface and sub-surface water systems.War time needs required that the coal be mined as quickly and as cheaply as possible. As a result, U.S. law discouraged the back filling and reclamation of surface coal mines. Thus many of those scarred pits still remain a hazard today discharging million of gallons of pollution daily into the region’s water system. This water eventually finds its way into two of the nation’s major drainage systems, the Delaware and Susquehanna River Systems.
However, since 1977 all surface coal mining operators are required to reclaim the land once they are done extracting the mineral. In addition, the Federal Government has undertaken the responsibility for the reclamation of abandoned pits and surface workings left open prior to 1977. To pay for those costs, the government has levied a special mining reclamation tax on all mining operators. This money is paid into the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) reclamation fund administered by the Office of Surface Mining. At $.35 per ton of surface coal mines, Anthracite operators have paid millions of dollars to the federal government to reclaim pre-1977 abandoned mine areas. But as the use of Anthracite has declined, so has the taxes paid to reclaim those old pits and the amount of acreage reclaimed by the industry.
In other words, the fewer tons of Anthracite produced, the fewer dollars there are for the government to reclaim those abandoned and hazardous areas. That places a greater burden on taxpayers during a time of shrinking and federal and state budgets.
However since all mining being don in the Anthracite coal region is the re-mining of coal left behind in previously mined areas, Anthracite mining operators are actually cleaning up acid mine drainage and the environment by mining from the surface and “day-lighting” old abandoned deep mines and closing them off. They then reclaim the landscape by back-filling and re-seeding the affected area reclaiming it for other uses. They do this as a part of their normal business operations.
Re-mining reclamation does not require the use of a single tax dollar and is done completely by the mining operator. This reclaims the environment and saves taxpayers millions of dollars annually.
In fact, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in 2008 the Anthracite mining industry reclaimed 162 acres of abandoned mine land. At an estimated cost of $10,000 per acre, active mining operations provided $1.6 million in environmental reclamation as a part of their normal business operations.
Re-mining reclamation creates win/win situation for everybody. However, as anthracite markets continue to diminish, the responsibility will shift from the mining operator to the tax payer to clean up these environmental hazards.
Energy Cost Savings
When compared with other major heating fuel sources on a BTU basis, Anthracite is considerably more cost effective (see graph to right)