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West Virginia Water Research Institute Showcases Research and Expertise at 40th West Virginia Mine Drainage Task Force Symposium

Man speaking behind a podium

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. –Water resource management and acid mine drainage were just some of the important topics discussed at the 40th Annual West Virginia Mine Drainage Task Force Symposium. Formed in  1978, the West Virginia Mine Drainage Task Force was assigned the duty of investigating the acid mine drainage problem in West Virginia that had been associated with surface mining.. Since then, the Task Force has broadened  to include areas outside of West Virginia with many diverse mine drainage issues.

Currently, there are 18 task force members who represent mining industry, regulators, consultants, and research scientists. The members remain active, regardless of distance through bi-monthly meetings, spring symposium, and fall field tour. These events help members to be actively involved in mine drainage topics and keep abreast of new and emerging technologies and practices in the field.

This year’s symposium marked 40 years for the Task Force. The event held March 26-27, 2019,was held at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel in Morgantown, West Virginia. On Tuesday, industry leaders and task force members discussed topics such as the mine drainage treatment and processing of rare earth elements. Wednesday, topics ranged from treatment system to selenium in fish tissue, and West Virginia watersheds.

West Virginia University (WVU) task force members were ecstatic the symposium was held in Morgantown this year. “It’s an honor for us at West Virginia University, the city of Morgantown and the state of West Virginia to host this symposium,” said Jeff Skousen, professor of soil science in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and WVU Extension Service land reclamation specialist. “Given the current attention to the state’s energy industry, this is the perfect time for scientists, regulators and the industry to share their knowledge.”

West Virginia Water Research Institute (WVWRI) Director and West Virginia Mine Drainage Task Force member, Paul Ziemkiewicz,Ph.D., spoke at the symposium on multiple occasions during the first day. WVWRI was well represented, as Program Manager, Melissa O'Neal worked in tandem with Ziemkiewicz on the 3 Rivers QUEST program related presentation, entitled "Developing a Water Management Plan for Underground Coal Mines."

The first presentation described the flooding of underground coal mines across the Monongahela River Basin and the decreased stability in ownership and management of these mines. Ziemkiewz proposed a "comprehensive, multi-agency program to develop a mine flooding management plan for the basin that will reduce treatment costs, rationalize capital and operating investment and financing until the pollutants in the mines flush out and they can be allowed to drain freely."

Ziemkiewicz second presentation titled, "Latest on Processing Rare Earth Elements from AMD Products," detailed WVWRI's Rare Earth Elements (REE) project. “If we can turn acid mine drainage (AMD) into a commercially viable feedstock for rare earth production it will create economic opportunity for coalfield communities and incentivize the treatment of AMD.  This has a lot of positive implications:  unlike conventionally mined rare earth ores AMD doesn’t contain radioactivity, it occurs in places that already have infrastructure and a trained workforce and, in most cases, the environmental permits are already in place.  So, production could take off quickly,” said Ziemkiewicz about the positive impacts REE could have in West Virginia.

Ziemkiewicz has been an active member of the West Virginia Mine Drainage Task Force for 30 years. “I’m one of several dozen members.  The task force includes state, industry and academic members.  That creates a great environment for hatching and developing innovative approaches to AMD control and treatment.  The Task Force has helped me tremendously by mentoring me on AMD, the regulatory environment and by providing a network for developing and testing new ideas.  Anyone can describe an environmental problem but thanks to the Task Force, West Virginia is an internationally recognized leader in solving AMD problems,” said Ziemkiewicz of his involvement in the task force and in making West Virginia a frontrunner in AMD related issues.