Regional firm seeks OK from state to open mine
Pending state Department of Environmental Protection approvals, a new mine will open in 2015 in the Alle-Kiski Valley but it won't produce coal.
Allegheny Minerals Corporation, based in Kittanning, wants to open an underground limestone mine that will straddle the Armstrong-Butler County line. The bulk of the mine, named the Bison Mine, will be in West Franklin Township, Armstrong County, but will cross into Winfield and Clearfield townships, Butler County.
Darrell Lewis, Allegheny Mineral's chief engineer, said the mine's location is roughly bounded by Route 422 to the north, the county line to the west and Buffalo Creek to the east and south. He said the mine's entrance will be off Mushroom Farm Road and thinks the last underground limestone mine was opened about 20 years ago.
“This would be our first attempt at underground mining,” said Mark Snyder, whose family owns Allegheny Minerals. “We've had open pit quarry operations for 50-plus years.”
An informal public conference will be held Oct. 23 from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Worthington-West Franklin Volunteer Fire Department, Worthington regarding the non-coal mining permit application from Allegheny Mineral. DEP and the Armstrong County Conservation district have scheduled the meeting to allow all interested persons to make comment on the application.
“We've been working on this permit for three years,” said Lewis. “There's a lot of background development that goes into this.”
Snyder said the underground mining of limestone is different than surface mining in two key areas.
”Underground, your efforts are all concentrated on the seam itself,” he said. “With surface mining, you spend a lot of time dealing with overburden, that is the dirt that is over the limestone seam. That takes substantial investment and huge machinery to move that dirt.”
Snyder said, “There's a lot more practices you have to follow as far as roof bolting and providing a safe environment for your workers.”
Lewis said the mineral will be mined from the Vanport Limestone Seam, one of several limestone seams located throughout the state.
In comparing an underground limestone mine to a coal mine, Snyder said there are a lot of differences. One notable one is the seam itself.
“In this area, the seam would be 3 to 5 feet high for coal,” Snyder said. “For limestone, it is much thicker; we're averaging 15 feet.”
Jamal Rostami, an associate professor of energy and mining engineering at Penn State University, said underground limestone mining is vastly different from underground coal mining.
“Not even close,” Rostami said. “Coal is flammable, it has methane in it; coal dust is explosive. Limestone has none of that. Lime is probably one of the most forgiving materials as far as mining.”
As for potential problems, Rostami indicated that there tend to be few with limestone mines. He said it is possible that mining activity could inadvertently tap into the water table, bringing water into the mine, which then has to be pumped out. But he said that depends on the mine's location.
A major concern regarding water is the discharge of water used in processing the limestone into local waterways. However, Snyder said that is not a concern because his company's process uses a closed system that recycles the water in a continuous loop.
Overall, Rostami said, limestone mines tend to have “a very low footprint in the area.” There is one near State College to which he takes students to tour the operation.
“The one here is a fairly nice, clean operation. It doesn't emit noise or pollution,” Rostami said. “Compared to a coal mine, this is a breeze, and coal mines also are very good these days.”
“We are not foreseeing any major environmental concerns or issues that have not been addressed by the Department of Environmental Protection,” Snyder said.
He said the mine will lead to some limited job opportunities. According to Snyder, 15 to 20 workers will be needed underground and 15 involved in processing on the surface. He said there will probably be some transfers of current employees working in the surface mining operations.
“We're sizing our facility to do a million tons per year,” Snyder said.
Initially, he said production will probably be about a half-million tons and the company will still maintain its surface mining operation.
“We won't be turning it on full-faucet, if you will, until we create more of a market for the product,” Snyder said. “There are certain segments of the market that we have not focused on very heavily because we don't have that extra capacity.
“There is a lot of opportunity in furnishing power plants with chemical limestone,” he said. “They use it in the combustion process to control their emissions. They use it to neutralize acidic emissions.”
Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or [email protected].