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Coal Research and Development: to Support National Energy Policy
comprehensive accounting of national coal reserves would require additional funding of approximately $10 million per year.
RESEARCH TO SUPPORT COAL MINING AND PROCESSING
The transition of coal from resource to reserve requires that the coal is minable from both a technical and an economic standpoint, so resource assessment processes must be closely linked to mining processes. Research and development activities offer the potential to solve the range of challenges associated with the more difficult mining conditions of the future, thereby maximizing the nation’s coal reserves.
Coal mining and processing involve a series of sequential operations: (1) exploration of a potentially economic coal seam to assess minable reserves, environmental issues, marketable reserves, potential markets, and permitting risks; (2) analysis and selection of a mining plan; (3) securing the markets; (4) developing the mine; (5) extracting the coal; (6) processing the coal if necessary; and (7) decommissioning the mine and releasing the property for future post mining uses. These activities, outlined in Chapter 4 (and amplified in Appendix E), result in a range of mining and processing challenges that in most cases already exist today, but are likely to become more pronounced in the mines of the future. As near-surface coal deposits are depleted, surface operations will mine deeper seams that require increased stripping ratios and multiple benches. Similarly, underground coal mines will have to access seams that are deeper, thinner, or thicker, generally with higher gas content and potentially more difficulties in control of the associated strata (i.e., ground control). In some cases, overlying seams will already have been mined or, to meet increased production, multiple seams may have to be mined simultaneously. These more difficult mining conditions will require improved methods to protect the health and safety of mine workers, to improve environmental management of mined lands and wastes, and to provide higher rates of resource recovery and mine productivity.
Improved Mine Worker Health and Safety
Factors that increase health and safety risks to the coal mining workforce include the introduction of new equipment and systems, commencement of mining in virgin areas, infusion of new workers, and the mining of multiple seams—seams that are thinner, thicker, or deeper than those customarily mined at present, and new seams that underlie or overlie previously mined-out seams. Additional risk factors that are likely to apply in the deeper mines of the future are the potential hazards related to methane control, dust control, ground control, ignition sources, fires, and explosions. All of these factors are likely to apply to some degree in future mines, irrespective of whether the higher production scenarios that are foreseen in some forecasts eventuate. If they do eventuate, these