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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Surface Water Quality

Acid–Base Accounting to Predict Post-Mining Drainage Quality on Surface Mines


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 31 No. 6, p. 2034-2044
    Received: Nov 28, 2001

    * Corresponding author(s): jskousen@wvu.edu
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  1. J. Skousen *a,
  2. J. Simmonsa,
  3. L. M. McDonalda and
  4. P. Ziemkiewiczb
  1. a Plant and Soil Sciences, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV 26506
    b National Mine Land Reclamation Center, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV 26506


Acid–base accounting (ABA) is an analytical procedure that provides values to help assess the acid-producing and acid-neutralizing potential of overburden rocks prior to coal mining and other large-scale excavations. This procedure was developed by West Virginia University scientists during the 1960s. After the passage of laws requiring an assessment of surface mining on water quality, ABA became a preferred method to predict post-mining water quality, and permitting decisions for surface mines are largely based on the values determined by ABA. To predict the post-mining water quality, the amount of acid-producing rock is compared with the amount of acid-neutralizing rock, and a prediction of the water quality at the site (whether acid or alkaline) is obtained. We gathered geologic and geographic data for 56 mined sites in West Virginia, which allowed us to estimate total overburden amounts, and values were determined for maximum potential acidity (MPA), neutralization potential (NP), net neutralization potential (NNP), and NP to MPA ratios for each site based on ABA. These values were correlated to post-mining water quality from springs or seeps on the mined property. Overburden mass was determined by three methods, with the method used by Pennsylvania researchers showing the most accurate results for overburden mass. A poor relationship existed between MPA and post-mining water quality, NP was intermediate, and NNP and the NP to MPA ratio showed the best prediction accuracy. In this study, NNP and the NP to MPA ratio gave identical water quality prediction results. Therefore, with NP to MPA ratios, values were separated into categories: <1 should produce acid drainage, between 1 and 2 can produce either acid or alkaline water conditions, and >2 should produce alkaline water. On our 56 surface mined sites, NP to MPA ratios varied from 0.1 to 31, and six sites (11%) did not fit the expected pattern using this category approach. Two sites with ratios <1 did not produce acid drainage as predicted (the drainage was neutral), and four sites with a ratio > 2 produced acid drainage when they should not have. These latter four sites were either mined very slowly, had nonrepresentative ABA data, received water from an adjacent underground mine, or had a surface mining practice that degraded the water. In general, an NP to MPA ratio of <1 produced mostly acid drainage sites, between 1 and 2 produced mostly alkaline drainage sites, while NP to MPA ratios > 2 produced alkaline drainage with a few exceptions. Using these values, ABA is a good tool to assess overburden quality before surface mining and to predict post-mining drainage quality after mining. The interpretation from ABA values was correct in 50 out of 52 cases (96%), excluding the four anomalous sites, which had acid water for reasons other than overburden quality.

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Copyright © 2002. American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science SocietyPublished in J. Environ. Qual.31:2034–2044.