West Virginia is very fortunate to have been created with a vast assortment of natural resources, more so than many other states in the country, Coal is found in fifty-three of its fifty-five counties except for Jefferson and Hardy counties which have, so far, no coal reserves under them. Once reported that forty-three counties in West Virginia have coal deposits of great economic importance with many of them currently being mined or have been mined.
Coal mining began in West Virginia during the early 1800's while still the Commonwealth of Virginia. At that time estimated mineable coal reserves totaled nearly 117 billion tons in sixty-two mineable seams and forty-five unminable seams.
Coal is not just a black rock. It's formation takes many steps and thousands of years to develop.It is actually an organic rock linked with the same family as petroleum and natural gas. Coal's origins are the remains of plant life that once grew on the surface of the earth in swamps. These swamps one time covered most of the state in one form or another.
As the plant life decomposed in the stagnant swamp waters, through time, sandstone, shale and limestone were layered on top of the peat bogg's. Extreme heat and pressure of this layering caused the peat to undergo chemical and physical changes. As more sediments covered the material, the peat eventually went through lithification into rock.
For over 145 years, the state of West Virginia has provided some of the very best coal ever mined in the United States. But how much about coal mining do we really know about? Is the knowledge we have about coal mining based solely upon what we read in the newspapers or, heaven forbid, the nightly news after some terrible accident?
The author of this website has spent 25 years of his life as a coal miner. And has written and published two separate books about coal mining in southern West Virginia and continues to write about other coal mining subjects.
But again, what do we really know? What about the people through the years that have mined the precious coal that has kept the steel mills and power plants of America operating? Or what do we know about the families of the miners who left for work one morning only to never see their families again?
Mining disasters have certainly rocked the state and it's people over the decades and continues to do so even now in the 21st century. But state and federal lawmakers are striving hard to pass laws that will help protect future lives as the demand for coal increases. The ever controversial practice of Mountain Top Removal or Strip Mining that plagues the state, ripping off the top of mountains to uncover the buried coal seams, leaving behind worthless acres of land. These lands are now worth nothing more than to turn over to ATV trail riders who visit the state. This is covered more abundantly on the Mine Reclamation page of this website. Does coal mine disasters affect non- coal mining people? Indeed it does, as it did back in 1972 in Logan County, as a mine sediment pond ruptured killing 125 people.
Why, you may ask, are miners different than other men and women who are trying to make a living?
In my opinion, it takes a special breed of person who will travel into the bowels of the earth and risk
their lives by nature and man to earn a dollar. One of the things with this website was to turn the coal language used by miners into terms and definitions that all who read about it would be able to understand. Two miners could be sitting on a park bench in New York City, talking about what they did in the mines and how they did it and passersby would possibly think they were talking in some kind of code.
Oh, by the way, for all of you politically and english language correct folks out there, coal miners usually refer to a coal mine as "mines". Not meaning that they are currently working for two or more companies,
it's just the way we talk. I have been sitting around with my friends, who were also miners, and we would be talking about the work and experiences we had and I would notice that my wife and others would lose interest in the stories. Why? Because we were speaking in terms that they found hard to understand.
The way coal is and was mined is not really impossible to understand. So much work goes into planning a mine that one finds it hard to believe. I knew about mining and I knew the dangers involved and what was required to get the coal to the surface. But I never knew what others had to do before the bulldozers moved in and how surveying took place long before the very first ton of coal was ever removed. The intention of this website is to share with you, the reader, some historical information about coal mining, past and present, and what miners had to endure to bring this fossilized mineral to the surface.
I will do my very best in explaining the terminology used in the industry so that it can be understood and I also hope that you will find it informative
and interesting, whether you are associated with mining or just idle curiosity. We have come a long way with mining technology and the relics of days gone by are few and deteriorating rapidly as time and the elements take their toll upon them. The best way to start this website is to show a form of mine map.
A map is as vital to a coal miner as a road atlas is to an interstate traveler. It lets them know where they are going and where they have been and how
much coal is left to mine. A map also lets the operator know where abandoned mine sites are underground for reasons that will be explained later on .
It would be very much impossible to operate a mine without a map to guide you and help keep you within the coal boundaries. It will also show how close to the outcrop, or very edge of a coal seam on the surface, that the mine is operating at. There are more things I wish to bring out and hope that I can, and be able to do it with care for those who have no mining knowledge.
The image at right represents a map of a coal of two separate mine's that I personally worked in. The red lines indicate the contour of the mountain from a topographical view.
The blue lines indicate the individual coal mine boundary line. This boundary line allows the mine operator to understand exactly how much coal he has to mine
,where mountain hollows lie, which could indicate possible bad roof conditions. Operators are required by law to keep their mining's well inside the coal mine boundary. As you can see in this map, there is another active coal mine right next door. The map will let the operator and the miners that are currently working inside know where the other mine is and how much "barrier coal" is between the two mines. This barrier is never to be breached under any circumstances.
Maps are extremely vital to mining as proven in Somerset, Pennsylvania at the Quecreek Mine. On the evening of July 24, 2002, eighteen Black Wolf Coal Company miners were in Quecreek Mine No. 1, working with what turned out to be an inaccurate mine map. They accidentally broke through into the abandoned, flooded Harrison No. 2 Mine, quickly filling the No. 1 Mine with water and trapping nine miners in an inaccessible section of tunnel.A rescue effort began immediately. The men were doomed unless the rescuers could determine where exactly the miners were. Above ground, a satellite tracking device was used to pinpoint the miners' location. Very fortunately, all the trapped miners were rescued as the whole world watched on television.
The map at left shows a close-up of the main portal entrance of the above mine. "Portal" meaning the place where actual mining began. At this particular mine three separate portals or tunnels were started from the surface. The tunnel indicated in red is the "intake roadway". Intake meaning the tunnel or entrance
that fresh air is either pulled or pushed (depending upon the ventilation plan for the mine) into the mine. The center entry indicated in yellow indicates the
conveyor belt line entry, or just "belt entry" for short. The entry marked in blue indicate the "return airflow" entries or the entries where the bad, dusty and
possibly gas containing air is pulled away from the working area to the outside.All mine sites are required to have their maps open for review by anyone who wishes to see them.
They contain information about the mine, from where they have been, to projected mineable areas. All power stations, belt conveyor drive systems and emergency escape routes are here as well as first aid stations and fire fighting tools.
The area indicated in purple are "crosscuts" or "breakthroughs". These crosscuts connect each of the heading tunnels together making ventilation and equipment transportation much easier. Each mine will begin mining three or more tunnels, each attempting to hold true to an imaginary straight line.Most mine sites mine coal based upon the room and pillar method of mining. The mine will leave blocks of coal called pillars, usually 60 feet by 90 feet, to help support the weight of the mountain as previously stated. Usually they will mine at least 100 feet from the outside before they turn the first set of breaks or breakthroughs. In this map we see that once the first crosscut was completed,two new entries were started, one on the left side and one on the right of the mine.On each side of the belt entry, in the crosscuts, you see a solid black line. This indicates that after the crosscut was completed and the mine advanced forward, a cinderblock wall was constructed. This cinderblock wall serves two major functions. First it allows the miners to direct the flow of fresh air on into newly mined entries and second, it helps to provide containment for explosions and mine fires.
The headings are continually mined while the crosscuts are completed. On the surface, land surveyors have determined what angles the mine must be operated at and from these triangulation stations, they have drawn an imaginary line called a center line, this line is what the miners use to keep the mine on a straight course while they mine so they will not drive the entries together or farther apart. At about every 100 feet, the surveying engineers triangulate the centerline and drive two metal tags, called spads, into the mine roof. These spads are numbered for reference and are parallel to each other. The mine foreman will use reflective rods called sight rods, hang them on the spad tags and use them to make a continued centerline to use in mining. It would be impossible to mine coal without this centerline and it would be a confused mess underground if all of the entries were not the proper width apart.
Ventilation is another essential ingredient to mining coal. The ventilation is made by a high horsepower fan on the surface, that will either push or pull fresh air from the outside, through the mine and circulate it across all the working areas, called mine face, and return the air back outside.Fresh air was not always a top priority for the mine operators of long ago, ventilation was a costly, non-essential thing and there was no need for concern. Today, the law requires that a certain amount of air per cubic foot, be drawn across the working face of a mine and be returned to the outside, carrying with it, liberated coal dust and any gases. The workers use vinyl material, called curtain, to help deflect the airflow to the areas of the mine that they need to ventilate. As the mine advances and crosscuts are made, the open breakthroughs that are no longer used by equipment, are stopping off. The workers will build a wall from cinderblocks or other non-flammable material, both on the intake and on the return side of the mine, to help keep the flow of air as high as the law demands. The intake, refers to the main entrance that fresh air enters the mine and is circulated across the face areas. Return, is the entry or entries of a mine that the ventilated air uses to return to the surface. In most mines, battery operated equipment are not permitted to travel these return entries because of possible methane gas ignition.
The depth of the mine all depends on how much coal there is to be mined, and how much the company is permitted to mine. Coal, unlike gold and silver, lies in seams in the rock strata and it generally continues throughout the entire mountain, and is determined in acres. Gold and silver are found in veins and rock has to be mined just to find a small amount of the ore.The seams of coal that are to be mined are usually core drilled in different areas from the surface. These samples are taken and studied to determine the coal seams height and chemical content, as well as a study on what the mine roof will be like and the floor of the mine itself. There are so many studies that are made before the first ton of coal is ever mined, that, it would quit frankly, surprise you. Permits are applied for months in advance from the Department of Interior and the Department of Natural Resources. And again, studies are made to determine the environmental impact that a mine will have in the area that it has applied for. There are, quit possibly, more studies and test that are performed before permits are issued, that I am not aware of. Things required today that were not required a half century ago.
For more on WV Coal History please click the photo below.