spoils on steep slopes, and to improve the construction and monitoring of impoundments.
Both the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and the Environmental Protection Agency, although primarily regulatory agencies, fund limited R&D activities in support of their missions. The committee estimates that annual funding of approximately $70 million will be required to conduct the research necessary to adequately respond to the environmental impacts of past, existing, and future mining operations. The committee recommends that OSM should be the lead agency in this effort, and it should coordinate closely with related EPA and state research activities.
The productivity of U.S. coal mines increased two- to three fold in the past three decades, largely due to evolutionary improvements, most notably the introduction of longwall mining in eastern underground mines and the development of large surface operations in the West. The sustained production and productivity increases that followed these changes resulted from incremental improvements in equipment and mining practices by mining companies and equipment manufacturers, and there has been little research and development on truly advanced mining technologies.
The development of advanced technologies, such as thin-seam underground mining technology or dry processing methods for western surface-mined coals, will present opportunities to recover a significant portion of potentially recoverable coal that currently is not extracted and may be permanently lost. In situ extraction or utilization methods, while they have not found broad application in the past, may become attractive as more easily mined reserves are exhausted. Many advanced mining technologies with the potential to reduce mine hazards, such as remote sensing, continuous monitoring at the mine face, remote control, and autonomous systems, also have the potential to increase production and productivity and improve resource recovery. Although the national coal resource is truly vast, the economically recoverable reserve base will depend on mining costs that in turn are determined by labor, environmental, and technological factors.
Small percentage increases in coal recovery through improved coal preparation processes and improved mining methods, perhaps including in situ extraction, have the potential to significantly expand economically recoverable reserves of both eastern and western coals. The development of these technologies, increasingly needed as coal reserve quality decreases over time, will help to maximize utilization of the nation’s coal resource.
The global transfer of coal mining and processing technology within the industry is facilitated by international equipment manufacturers, who work