Land damage from underground coal mining are grouped into four main impact types:
Tension cracks – near vertical cracks or ruptures of the ground surface that can extend tens to hundreds of feet in length and several feet in depth and width. These cracks may stay open or close shortly after opening. As mining progresses through the area, compressional forces may also affect the crack which can complicate their appearance.
Mass wasting – downward movement of earth material due to the force gravity (commonly referred to as landslides or rock falls). The formation of the subsidence basin can cause existing slopes to become unstable and fall. Land movement may locally be called a “slip” or “slide”.
Flooding – a new buildup of the stream waters as a result of the formation of a subsidence basin. A newly formed subsidence basin acts as a dam which allows the stream flow to pool. Flooding can result from the rising elevation of the stream and/or the addition of precipitation.
Other – all remaining land damage impacts including localized subsidence (“sinkholes”)
A landowner must first notify the mine operator that land damage has occurred. The operator reports the incident to the Department within ten days. If the mine operator accepts responsibility, the operator repairs the damage or comes to a private agreement with the landowner. If the parties are unable to reach a resolution, the landowner may file a claim in writing with the Department. The Department will investigate to determine if mine subsidence caused the damage. To the extent technologically and economically feasible, operators must correct material damage to surface lands resulting from subsidence caused by the operator’s underground mining operations. Material damage means there has been a functional impairment of surface lands or a physical change that has a significant adverse impact on the affected land’s capability to support current or reasonably foreseeable uses or causes significant loss in production or income (25 Pa Code Chapter 89). If the Department determines the operator is responsible for material damage, the Department will order the operator to repair the damage. If the Department investigation finds the damage was not caused by mine subsidence, the owner has the right to file an appeal with the PA Environmental Hearing Board.
The Department expediently addresses land damage incidents. These cases are frequently resolved immediately, but a small group may remain “unresolved” for several months or years.
Incidents may remain unresolved for long periods for several reasons. The operator and landowner may decide to monitor the situation for additional effects as mining progresses. Another longwall panel may be passing close by within a year so the parties may choose to delay repairs. Landowners may also wish to delay repairs due to seasonal constraints (wet season, hay growing season, or hunting). Some land damage claims are related to other claims such as structure damage or water loss that complicates immediate solutions and delays closure of the claims. Incidents may also remain unresolved due to ongoing Department investigation or negotiations between the landowner and the operator.
Last updated 3/15/2022