Compared to other historically mined watersheds in the region, Blacklick Creek had an unusual number of large above ground refuse (boney) piles. Prior to present mining regulations waste coal and associated rock were removed from deep mines and deposited in low lying areas near the mine entries in large piles sometimes including several million tons of material. The waste coal and associated rock contains large amounts of pyrite and produces acid mine drainage that is ten to one hundred times more concentrated than typical abandoned deep and surface mine discharges. In the late 1980’s Pennsylvania developed a regulatory framework that allowed these piles to be remined and burned in specially designed power plants. These plants inject limestone into the combustion chamber with the fuel and produce an alkaline ash that is different physically and chemically from typical coal ash. This alkaline ash is then used to reclaim the remined piles. Using this method five very large refuse piles have been reclaimed in the Blacklick Creek watershed and a sixth is nearing completion.
The five completed large piles include four on the South Branch Blacklick Creek, two of which were located in the town of Revloc and two of which were located in the Town of Nanty Glo. These four sites were permitted and mined by Ebensburg Power Company; final reclamation of the piles in Nanty Glo is being completed by Robindale Energy Services. The remining and reclamation of these four piles has revitalized the South Branch Blacklick Creek to the extent that the once orange-flowing stream now supports aquatic life, including trout throughout its length. Remining and reclamation of the large pile in the town of Colver by the Colver Power Project has greatly improved the quality of Elk Creek, a tributary of the North Branch Blacklick Creek. The sixth large pile is located on Lower Yellow Creek and is nearing completion as of 2023. It was remined first by Cambria Reclamation Corporation and later by Robindale Energy Services.
In addition to the large piles the Blacklick Creek watershed included many smaller piles ranging in size from a few hundred tons to a few hundred thousand tons. Numerous of these smaller piles have also been removed by the waste coal industry, many by Robindale Energy Services. The size, location and quality of the piles dictated whether the piles were removed under traditional environmental permits, reclamation contracts with the state abandoned mine program, or some other regulatory mechanism. Collectively, remediation of these piles has had a large positive impact on the water quality of Blacklick Creek as well as the aesthetic values of the area. While additional piles remain, much progress has been made toward eliminating abandoned coal refuse piles as a major source of pollution on Blacklick Creek.
Click on the menus for the Vintondale and Wehrum Reclamation projects for more details regarding examples of medium sized pile reclamation projects.
Large Refuse Piles At Revloc During Remining circa 2004