Approaches and Barriers to Incorporating Sustainable Development Into Coal Mine Design
Craynon, John Raymond
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It is widely recognized that coal is and will continue to be a crucial element in a modern, balanced energy portfolio, providing a bridge to the future as an important low-cost and secure energy solution to sustainability challenges. The designer of coal mining operations needs to simultaneously consider legal, environmental, and sustainability goals, along with traditional mining engineering parameters, as integral parts of the design process. However, traditional coal mining planning seldom considers key “sustainability factors” such as societal impacts; dislocation of towns and residences; physical and economic impact on neighboring communities and individuals; infrastructure concerns; post-mining land use habitat disruption and reconstruction; and long-term community benefit. This work demonstrates the advantage of using a systems engineering approach based on the premise that systems can only be optimized if all factors are considered at one time. Utilizing systems engineering and optimization approaches allows for the incorporation of regulatory and sustainability factors into coal mine design. Graphical approaches, based on the use of GIS tools, are shown as examples of the development of models for the positive and negative impacts of coal mining operations. However, this work also revealed that there are significant challenges inherent in optimizing the design of large-scale surface coal mining operations in Appalachia. Regulatory and permitting programs in the United States, which give conflicting and ill-defined responsibilities to a variety of federal and state agencies, often focus on single parameters, rather than the full suite of desirable outcomes for sustainability, and serve as barriers to innovation. Sustainable development requires a delicate balance between competing economic, environmental and social interests. In the context of coal mining in the U.S., the current regulatory frameworks and policy-guidance vehicles impede this balance. To address this problem, and thus effectively and efficiently provide energy resources while protecting the communities and environments, the U.S. will likely need to fundamentally restructure regulatory programs. Ideally, revisions should be based upon the key concepts of public ecology and allow for a systems engineering approach to coal mine design.
- Doctoral Dissertations