A multidisciplinary team of West Virginia University researchers working with the Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Sciences, known as ARIES, has received $500,000 to continue studies on the effects of surface coal mining. Team leaders hope this research will help industry regulators implement progressive mining practices for regional application.

ARIES is a consortium of seven major universities led by the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech with support from private industry. The new funding was provided through a grant from the Virginia Tech Foundation to the WVU Foundation.

The WVU research team includes Todd Petty from Wildlife and Fisheries Resources ; Mike Strager, Resource Management ; Jeff Skousen and Louis McDonald, Plant and Soil Science, all in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design ; Vlad Kecojevic, from the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources ; and Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at the National Research Center for Coal & Energy.

Other universities in the ARIES initiative in addition to WVU and Virginia Tech are: the University of Kentucky, Pitt, Penn State and Ohio State. Ziemkiewicz will lead the WVU effort.

Ziemkiewicz said that funding was provided to the Virginia Tech Foundation by the coal industry, but other than setting broad priorities, the research teams have developed their own research strategies. Funding is expected to continue at a similar rate for at least five years.

Ziemkiewicz said that “no one knows where this research will lead. Our only metric is publication of our results in the peer-reviewed literature.”

At WVU, Petty and Strager will evaluate watershed scale effects of water quality changes. Skousen and McDonald will look at the weathering of mined rock to predict water quality impacts. Kecojevic will study surface mining methods with a goal of developing an information system to help improve surface mining practices and coal recovery while minimizing environmental disturbances during overburden removal and coal extraction.

Skousen said “as we learn more about the chemical properties of mined rock we will better understand the duration and chemistry of discharges and help operators develop mine plans that minimize pollutant release to the environment. Our research team has been developing technologies for managing mining impacts to aquatic resources for decades. ARIES will enable us to carry these technologies to the scale of the entire Appalachian region and increase the likelihood that progressive mining practices will be implemented by the industry and regulatory agencies.”

Ziemkiewicz said he believes that with the tightening of the federal budget, innovative approaches are needed to support critical research.

“ARIES is a novel strategy for us,” he said. “While foundation to foundation funding is used in other parts of WVU, we had previously focused on competitive federal grants. That involves identifying a way to address a problem, waiting for a source of funds to develop and then competing for it. That process can take years. This is an extraordinary opportunity for our faculty members to set their own research agendas and move quickly into knowledge gathering.”


Ds/gg 11/11/11

CONTACT: David Saville, Environmental Technology

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