MORGANTOWN — Work on the Richard Mine acid mine drainage treatment plant continues to forge ahead, with a new addition enabled by research at WVU.
Right now, the most prominent feature for passers-by on W.Va. 7 is the lime storage silo that towers above the site.
We took a tour of the site on Wednesday with Eric Simpson, regional engineer with the Department of Environmental Protection Office of Abandoned Mine Lands & Reclamation; Jennifer Selfridge, DEP Office of Special Reclamation environmental resource specialist; and Sheldon Holbert, DEP AML construction engineer.
The silo was erected in January, but then wet weather and a delay in getting some materials led the contractor to a winter shutdown for the months of February and March, Simpson said.
The rest of the work is at ground level and not too visible from the road. A little hike up the bank behind the site offers a bird’s-eye view, with the silo adjacent to three rectangular swimming-pool-sized holes in the ground.
Trucks will hook to a connection at the bottom of the silo and feed the dry lime in, where it will be pushed to the top of the silo.
The lime is mixed with the mine runoff water in the first and smallest pool, a rapid mix tank, and sent into the clarifying pools where the metals will be separated out. The clean water will then be discharged into Deckers Creek.
The three pools plus an office and control room will be enclosed in a building. A DEP staffer will be stationed on site, Simpson said, but the whole operation will be automated so someone can oversee and control it with an iPad.
And any future facilities along the creek will be remotely controlled and run to this building so the operator can run multiple sites from here.
On Thursday, Selfridge said, the contractor’s crew was forming up piers and footers for the first building, then planning to lay rebar for the concrete floor. Electrical contractors were also on site laying conduit before the floor is poured.
Rare earth elements
The new addition will be a third clarifier for extracting rare earth elements. This operation will be based on WVU Water Research Institute’s rare earth element production pilot plant at Mount Storm, where the metals are extracted from mine runoff.
Institute Director Paul Ziemkiewicz said they worked with DEP on the Mount Storm plant. “We’d like to do that with a lot more plants.” Among other benefits, it will provide a revenue stream for DEP’s AML or Special Reclamation funds.
Richard’s facility will be simpler than Mount Storm’s, Ziemkiewicz said. At Mount Storm, the elements are extracted in two steps: first the extracted material is formed into a pre-concentrate, then it’s processed into a mixed rare earth oxide with a higher purity.
At Richard, they’ll stop at the pre-concentrate phase, he said. That will be shipped to a central facility for processing and refining into rare earth metals.
There is no facility yet, he said. They just received announcement of a U.S. Department of Energy award last month for a design feasibility study for the plant. Part of that will be a proposed location, and they have a couple candidate sites in mind.
As they start working toward building a refinery, he said, Richard and other possible mine runoff operations will play a key role in building a stockpile of concentrates to work with.
Selfridge said that the contractor was hoping to start excavation on the third clarifier that day. It will be under roof, but will have no walls.
Simpson said the new project has altered DEP’s completion timeline. It was this September but has been moved to May 2024.
In the future
There are several metal buildings on the site and Simpson said they will be rehabbed for storage.
Holbert and Simpson said DEP is looking — probably — a couple years down the road to treat runoff from the Rock Forge mine across W.Va. 7. They’ll capture the runoff from a portal a little ways west on W.Va. 7 and pump it back to the Richard plant for treatment.
Selfridge said this is better than building another facility — it will save money and be less disruptive to the environment through a smaller footprint.
Richard Mine facts
The defunct Richard Mine — it closed in 1953 — covers about 3 square miles, with all but a small portion of it running northeast of Deckers Creek and W.Va. 7 from Richard. In the 1990s, DEP’s AML worked on the mine, opened and drained it and put in pipes so water wouldn’t pile up inside.
The discharge currently emerges from the site of the original mine seal, flows from an 18-inch pipe into a 44-inch concrete trench, then into a concrete lined channel and into the creek.
The mine is the single largest source of acid mine drainage into the creek: 200 gallons per minute. Each year, that contaminated flow puts into the creek 730,500 pounds of acidity, 140,000 pounds of iron, 59,000 pounds of aluminum and 3,200 pounds of manganese.
The drainage kills aquatic life in the creek’s lower six miles and the metals turn it red-orange all the way through Morgantown to its mouth at the Monongahela River. The aluminum leaves white deposits that can be seen year-round at the discharge site and along the creek’s edge during low flows.
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