How Marcellus Shale can clean up acid mine drainage

Read the full opinion piece in the Patriot-News.

Pennsylvania’s 200-year history of coal mining has left a legacy of polluted waterways that remains one of the state’s greatest environmental challenges. More than 250,000 abandoned surface mines, many containing acidic water-filled pits, scar Pennsylvania’s landscape.

Acidic drainage from these abandoned mines — called acid mine drainage or AMD — often has a pH below 5.0, which leaches heavy metals from surrounding rocks and kills fish and other aquatic species in its path.

AMD from historic coal mining has rendered more than 2,400 miles of Pennsylvania’s streams and waterways unusable and contaminated untold numbers of household drinking water wells. While the state spends about $19 million annually on abandoned mine reclamation, this modest effort is dwarfed by the magnitude of the environmental problem, which some estimate will cost $50 billion to fix.

To date, relatively few AMD areas have been remediated, because of cost, potential liability and a lack of meaningful economic incentives. But Marcellus Shale brings an exciting opportunity to finally tackle the state’s most intractable environmental problem.

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