Imagine Your Farmland After Longwall Mining

Many farmers sold the rights to mine coal under their fields for much-needed income. They thought they would never see surface impacts since room and pillar (with no planned subsidence) was used for centuries. No farmer knew about future highly mechanized, high extraction coal removal (called longwall mining) that would come decades later, and sink the land for present and future use.

Imagine looking over your life-long farm field where you planted seeds and nurtured the land to yield a good crop for decades. Knowing right now, there is a longwall mining machine below your field several hundred feet down. As the coal is severed from the coal wall, the machine moves forward and the roof collapses behind it. On the surface, you see the cracks form and the depressions in the earth that increase slowly. The surface of the land falls in an uneven pattern and depth depending on the size of the coal seam removed. Layers of earth must find new placement and foundation. With 90% of the coal seam removed, the land falls several feet in an unsettled pattern to fill the void. Anything on the surface is adversely affected by the subsidence: streams, homes, ponds, barns, grain bins, trees, highways, etc. The longwall panels are miles long and several hundred feet wide.

As you look at the sunken field, your heart aches with worry about the land’s future. With rain comes the pooling of water that prevents spring planting. As with many farmlands, the coal rights and subsidence rights were very long ago severed from the land surface causing the land to be vulnerable.
Land is a commodity with a defined purpose. The farmer’s land has a purpose to raise crops. A coal mine owner has a purpose of extracting coal from the land with his coal rights. The conflict between the farmer and coal mine operator occurs when coal extraction interferes with the land’s crop production. Room and pillar method of coal mining is compatible with crop production since no planned subsidence occurs. In stark contrast, when a company is given the authority to use the longwall mining method, the resulting subsidence damages farmland permanently.

Subsidence of flat land creates hills and sunken areas where water has nowhere to drain. The accumulation of water in the sunken areas resembles filling a bathtub. Attempts to direct water flow have been made by digging long drainage ditches. The open fields are now separated by the ditches with erosion of topsoil occurring. The land simply cannot be returned to the condition and viability that existed prior to the subsidence. Compensation for the damage and economic loss must be negotiated with Hillsboro Energy, LLC whose owners already have financial problems after bankruptcies.

Hillsboro Energy, LLC holds subsidence rights and coal rights to land in the Montgomery County Illinois area. After acquiring all the regulatory permits, their mining rights under the land and on the surface had priority over the landowner’s or farmer’s purpose. Since the demand for coal is far less than the demand for food, land use must be reconsidered in the future. The proposed 7,731.8-acre expansion of Deer Run Mine is still pending. With the climate crisis, keeping coal in the ground seems to be a better use of land and resources for the common good.

Phone the Illinois Department of Natural Resources 217-782-6302 and Land Reclamation Division 217-782-4970 and tell them to deny Deer Run Mine’s 7,731.8-acre expansion. Mother Earth appreciates your help.
For more information visit CALM http://www.citizensagainstlongwallmining.org

THE FOLLOWING AD WAS PUBLISHED IN THE JOURNAL-NEWS ON MARCH 8, 2021

Route 185 Damages from Longwall Mining Subsidence & Subsidence Water Ponding Feb. 28th

Serious Impacts from Longwall Mining at Deer Run Mine

• Longwall Mining will sink more areas along Route 185 and Surrounding Farm Fields.

• Flat farmland sinks unevenly causing major drainage problems affecting crops.

• Longwall Mining causes impacts like a ‘bathtub effect’ with pooling of water.

• Farmers are at the mercy of the mine for recovering compensation for damages.

• Many farm fields will never be back to the flat, efficient farming as before.

• 7,731.8 acres more longwall expansion is pending and will continue damages.

• Deer Run Mine will use 6.18 Acres on the IDNR Conservation Area for air vents and other structures impacting a historic and diminishing state threatened species.

• Billion dollar bankruptcies of coal companies get rid of debt obligations while they continue mining.

• Getting an equitable settlement for the landowner and community is a struggle especially with the prior billion dollar bankruptcy and financial condition of the current owners of Deer Run Mine.

• Montgomery County residents have sacrificed for this longwall mine in many ways: the integrity of farmland, protection of water resources, water and air quality, lost airport, and safety from the high hazard coal slurry structures containing toxic heavy metals which will remain after the mining ends.

Phone the Illinois Department of Natural Resources 217-782-6302 and Land Reclamation Division 217-782-4970 and tell them that enough is enough and make the mine fix what they have already damaged. The Deer Run Mine’s 7,731.8-acre expansion should not be approved.

This ad sponsored by CALM / Citizens Against Longwall Mining

2021

Although beleaguered by pandemic and political upheaval in our country, just saying “2021” engenders hope and thoughts that we are surviving. The barriers that seem to exist in the resolution of some of our problems revolve around untruths and conspiracies. Using the CALM web site, we plan to do our part through the forthright dissemination of facts and information that can make a positive difference in our coalfield communities in Illinois and across the U. S.

Maxine Pohlman, SSND, who is the Director of LA Vista Ecological Learning Center in Godfrey, Illinois, is working with CALM and the Mining Issues Group of the Sierra Club in a mutual group effort toward addressing harmful coal mining impacts. She has written an article that links the message of Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si with the existing damages to coal mining communities. This encyclical title translates to “Praised Be: On the Care of the Common Home” was published on June 18, 2015. His proclamation emphasized that fighting climate change is a moral issue that requires environmental awareness and environmental justice.

Deer Run Coal Mine – Sinking the Heartland and Hearts by Maxine Pohlman, SSND

About an hour’s drive northeast of Immaculate Heart of Mary Novitiate and La Vista Ecological Learning Center lies the town of Hillsboro and the Deer Run Coal Mine. As part of my ministry at La Vista I joined the Mining Issues Group of the Sierra Club fighting longwall mining, a process used by Deer Run which extracts 90% of the coal, causing land above to subside 5 – 6 feet and changing it irreversibly. Homesteads, highways, schools, and whole communities have been lost or threatened due to “planned subsidence.”

Our work group includes members of CALM, Citizens Against Longwall Mining, and since 2004 they have been committed to opposing coal mining that destroys fertile farmland as well as coal ash and coal slurry disposal methods that threaten the health of their communities, their lands and waters. This is an example of social and environmental justice going hand-in-hand, as we read in Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’: The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. (48)

In our meetings to determine actions to stop destructive mining, Mary Ellen DeClue, a member of CALM, raised this significant question: “Why are Illinois government agencies and legislators aligning with the interests of coal-fired utilities and coal mining companies to the detriment of the public they serve?” This theme is repeated weekly during our meetings, and in these comments I hear the frustration that comes when the burden of harm and cost is shifted to the local community, all to maximize short term gains by coal companies. The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together…

We are made aware that the coal processing plant is next door to Hillsboro Hospital, that contaminated liquid waste from the mine overflows into Central Park Creek that meanders past Hillsboro High School and Middle School through Hillsboro. The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together…

The agencies that regulate coal mining are allowed to be overly pressured by the industry that they oversee. Coal mining regulations are not enforced, and communities pay with their health and a degraded environment. The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together…

The wisdom of Laudato Si’ is exemplified in examples like this one all over the world every day. When will the human community start taking this wisdom to heart?

For more information visit CALM http://www.citizensagainstlongwallmining.org/ 

Watch the video “Sinking the Heartland” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXp6KRVgH6U

This article was first published in the 2021 Oblates of Mary Immaculate’s Newsletter on Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation.

Montgomery County Residents Express Concerns Over Deer Run Mine Expansion

William Schroeder, a landowner concerned by the proposed expansion area, addresses Scott Fowler (rt) and Cliff Johnson, Land Reclamation Specialist, about the lack of a formulated plan to handle the drainage issues of subsided land with no timeframe for reclamation. William questioned how the subsidence of each sunken panel going north to south could be corrected when each time there is a hill to overcome. Mr. Fowler agreed that the situation is more difficult.

Nearly fifty concerned citizens, local officials and area farmers attended the February 11th “Informal Conference” held by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Office of Mines and Minerals in Hillsboro at the Montgomery County Historic Courthouse.

Hillsboro Energy, LLC has submitted an application for a Significant Revision No. 2 to Permit 399 for Deer Run Mine.

Scott Fowler, Division Manager and Hearing Officer for the Informal Conference, listens to Larry Schraut at the podium. Larry farms land that is located in the shadow area in both the original and proposed expansion of Deer Run Mine. He questioned why IDNR/OMM would approve an expansion when they don’t know if the subsided land with drainage problems can be reclaimed as documented by the little progress that has been made on correcting the sunken areas of panels 1 and 2 after several years. Mr. Fowler commented that as long as the mine is fulfilling the obligations of its current permit, it has an opportunity to be able to expand its mining area.

An “Informal Conference” is supposed to be an opportunity for questions and answers regarding a new coal mine permit application, revision, or renewal. Per the federal Surface Mining Control, Reclamation and Enforcement Act an Informal Conference can serve to answer questions regarding a new mine permit so there is no need for a Public Hearing on the application.

Scott Fowler, Division Manager, Office of Mines and Minerals, IDNR and Hearing Officer for the Informal Conference.

Needless to say, citizens have also requested a Public Hearing as many of their questions were not answered. The Public Hearing has been scheduled by Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Office of Mines and Minerals on March 24th at 5 p.m. at the Montgomery County Historic Courthouse.

Below are some key issues and concerns raised at the Informal Conference:

1. In spite of being shut down due to an ongoing underground mine fire, the mine has applied for a 7,731.8 acre expansion for underground mining in the shadow area. This huge increase in available coal mining area is nearly double the size of the originally permitted underground mining area. Thousands of acres of prime flat farmland are included in this longwall mining application and hence will be subject to subsidence if this new permit is approved.

2. If Deer Run Mine is expanded, there was a request not to use the 2 existing impoundments for storage of coal waste. The two slurry impoundments upon failure would damage Hillsboro Lake and many homes and businesses as shown by the inundation maps.

3. Many citizens were concerned about water resources being contaminated and compromised to the extent that the stream could not be used for cattle or wildlife. After coal has been mined for 5 years at Deer Run Mine, surface waters around Deer Run Mine are contaminated as indicated by their high conductivity.

4. The mine also proposes to subside (drop the surface of the land unevenly four to six feet with permanent earthquake-like impacts) on the western edges of Coffeen Lake, which is an IDNR Fish and Wildlife area. Bear Creek and McDavid Branch will also be subsided. Although there will be material damage to water resources and farmland from subsidence, there is no additional bonding planned for the proposed expansion at Deer Run Mine.

5. Local farmers expressed again their concerns about long-term drainage problems and they questioned how subsided farmland would be reclaimed. It became apparent that there is no formulated plan on how the water drainage on subsided land would be handled and certainly no timeframe for completion.

6. Area citizens have worries that the mine processing plant producing air pollution and causing health risks would only be prolonged with an expansion. There is no change with the expansion in the lifetime air permit which does not monitor air on or off the mine site. Residents have endured coal dust, fumes, and noxious odors and these unhealthy events would be increased with the additional 7,731.8 acres.

7. With an approved expansion, the mine will be able to extract coal for several decades as long as Hillsboro Energy, LLC renews the permit every 5 years. The fiscal solvency of Deer Run Mine was questioned. There were worries about who would pay future costs of reclamation after the mine closes.

8. The potential of longwall mining under the land will lower area property values and quality of life. Many of the mineral rights of landowners were severed years, decades, or even a century ago from their surface land. The rights of landowners are superseded by the rights of Deer Run Mine.

Excerpts of citizen testimony and state agency responses are at the video link below, thanks to the work of Pam and Lan Richart of Eco-Justice, Champaign, Illinois.

Larry Schraut testimony.

William Schroeder testimony.

CALM Comments to OSMRE RE: Stream Protection Rule

Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement
Administrative Record, Room 252 SIB
1951 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20240

RE: Docket ID: OSM-2010-0018, Proposed Stream Protection Rule,
80 Fed. Reg. 44436 (July 27, 2015)

The proposed stream protection rules should be implemented, and in addition, appropriate requirements that would mandate full compliance with the Clean Water Act should be enacted. Moreover, material damage produced from mining should include not only water resource damage, but total economic loss to coalfield citizens.

There are 2 active coal mines near the homes of Citizens Against Longwall Mining members. Shay 1 Mine in Carlinville, Illinois and Deer Run Mine in Hillsboro, Illinois. Both mines have contaminated water resources, damaged farmland and diminished air quality.

Shay 1 Mine, the prior Monterey 1 Mine owned by Exxon-Mobil, was purchased by Chris Cline/Foresight Energy Group and approved in 2009 for active coal production. Monterey 1 Mine had contaminated groundwater and off-site surface waters for many years due to leakage from 2 coal slurry impoundments. It is unacceptable that the water violations did not prevent the Illinois Department of Natural Resources/Office of Mines and Minerals from approving the permit that allowed additional coal slurry to be placed into the offending impoundments.

IDNR/OMM proceeded over time to approve importation of coal ash and to establish underground coal slurry injection at Shay 1 Mine. The unacceptable contamination issues still exist and this has resulted in the Attorney General’s Office decreeing a trench assembly to be constructed to facilitate the pumping of contaminated water for treatment prior to discharge. This has not been established yet, but is planned.

There is a pending permit (Revision 11 of Permit 56) that would expand Shay 1 Mine by 10,015 acres. Many residents in Macoupin County are very concerned about the proposed plan to room and pillar mine under the 2 Gillespie Lakes that are the only drinking water resources for thousands of residents. IDNR/OMM routinely rubber stamps coal mine permit applications regardless of citizens’ objections and risks. Citizens are legitimately concerned that 40-50 years later there will be subsidence with no bonding available to compensate for damage. They have already lost an almost newly built school due to subsidence from prior coal mining. The coal operator that produced the subsided mine voids was no longer in business. The legacy costs of coal are not addressed for communities that have unplanned subsidence and ground water damage that will occur for future generations.

Deer Run Mine is also owned by Chris Cline/Foresight Energy with recent financial holdings by Robert Murray Energy. This longwall mine is located in the City of Hillsboro, Illinois with the coal processing plant next door to Hillsboro Hospital, a nursing home, and a day care center. The mine discharges into Structure 5 that flows into Central Park Creek and meanders through Hillsboro past the Middle and High Schools. The chemical content, concentrations, and total accumulation from the mine discharge are not known, but the electrical conductivity of water in Central Park Creek is high and at unacceptable levels. Water quality standards are seriously not being protected with the present regulations as applied in Illinois.

The damage to farmland by subsidence from longwall mining has not only been a nonissue, but the proposed methods to mitigate the 5-6 feet sunken areas are absent from approved Permits 399, Significant Revision 1 of 399, and Renewal of 399, and Permit 422 . There are still no proposed drainage plans after 7 years beyond the promise that these problems will be managed. IDNR/OMM ignored the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation’s concerns about drainage issues from subsidence and its suggestion that the first impoundment be relocated out of the watershed of Hillsboro Lake, a public drinking water source. Long term, longwall mining will severely affect the agricultural industry in Illinois since coal is located in two/thirds of the state.

One of the most dangerous legacies in Montgomery County is the permanent placement of the coal slurry impoundments in the community. Hundreds of acres of cropland are lost to coal slurry impoundments that can leak, erode coal dust, and fail over time. There was no risk assessment in determining the location of Deer Run Mine’s second impoundment that upon failure will inundate the City of Hillsboro to the west, Schram City to the north, several major streams and hundreds of acres of farmland to the south, and the first coal slurry impoundment to the east. This inundation threat and forever risk to several communities reflect the tragic, inappropriate, and harmful control coal has on our regulatory agencies.

Through manipulation by the coal industry and a lack of enforcement by regulatory agencies, there is a failure of proper protection of coalfield communities. The fact that under SMCRA the Clean Air Act is not enforced and fugitive emissions are a nonissue is an insult to the health and development of a community. The health damage from particulate matter alone is well established, but coal dust has harmful metals and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that endanger health even more. Coalfield citizens tragically do not have their right to a healthful life as should be ensured and protected by regulatory agencies.

If coal mining is to mitigate its damage in the U.S., the health, safety, and financial well being of communities must be protected by federal mining laws and enforced by state regulators. Stronger enforcement of SMCRA is essential for the quality of life in communities and the continued extraction of coal.

Thank you for your many efforts and for proposing the new stream protection rules.