Ecological Problems of Post-industrial Mining Areas

Restructuring of the coal industry of Ukraine in 1995-2000 is the most ambitious attempt to recover and reconstruct a huge economic sector of the state in a relatively short time. This was a positive aspect of the mass liquidation of unpromising and unprofitable mines. As a result of reconstruction, the coal industry was supposed to become a more compact and market-oriented branch. However, in practice the positive results of restructuring of the coal industry faded into insignificance. The drastic negative socioeconomic and environmental impacts that led to the emergence of regions with persistent symptoms of depression have come to the fore.

One of the important arguments that seemed to be the key argument for liquidation of the mines was reduction of maintenance costs and recovery of mining enterprises and national economy as a whole. But, as practice shows, such liquidation of mines has neither improved the ecological situation, nor solved any other problems that emerged during their exploitation and liquidation. All of this is related to the fact that the mine closures were not preceded by the comprehensive scientific assessments and forecasts for the state of environment in these regions as well as no consequences of further influence of the liquidated mines on the components of the environment were studied.

In particular, such unreasoned and unreasonable closure of mines may lead to catastrophic consequences both ecological and social as the coal industry is a very complicated multiindustrial production and economic complex, which is a heavy industry not only in content but also in terms of a high level of environmental risk. It should be noted that there are some issues related to the liquidation process that are still not resolved, particularly:

– there is no clear notion of the volume of mining of resources at which the operation of mining enterprises makes no economic sense; the issue of liability of economic entities for the consequences of mine closure has not been cleared up.

– Currently there are no clear mechanisms for mines closure, which would take into account all environmental impacts from the moment of shutdown of production equipment to the development of strategies for sustainable operation of postindustrial areas. Besides, in most cases the ecological problems arising at different stages of liquidation of unprofitable mines have considerable impact on the future development and functions of adjacent territories.

– The process of liquidation of mining enterprises is ecologically dangerous, that is why a continuous monitoring of the environmental state should be provided. With the advent of new directions of influence on the environment, there is a need to organize:

– 1) management of the hydrogeological regime of the high density mining areas;

– 2) continuous treatment of highly mineralized mining water discharged into the hydrographic network;

– 3) neutralization of hazardous and radioactive waste and land rehabilitation;

– 4) accounting of mining holes and works for their stabilization;

– 5) bringing of waste heaps to an environmentally safe condition.

The problem is also in the adaptation of existing environmental standards to the realities of coal mining areas where the situation close to ecological disaster has occurred. It is necessary to develop the methods of environmental risk assessment at mine closure and the system of standards that would take into account the process of gradual improvement of ecological situation due to measures that are taken (Sliadnev 2001). Till now the liquidation of the coal mines has been funded residually and with the violations of environmental laws. Neglecting of environmental safety regulations during the closure of mines leads to significant changes and violation of hydrological regime of areas, pollution of surface and groundwater, land subsidence, etc.

The purpose of this study was to analyze the state of the environment in the post-industrial mining regions of Ukraine, where the mines are closed.

The coal industry is the foundation for sustainable operation of the national economy and its energy safety. Major coal reserves are concentrated in Donetsk Coal Basin, Lviv-Volyn Coal Basin and Dnieper Brown Coal Basin. Coal mining has been carried out on the territory of the state for more than 200 years. Thus, in particular, at the times of the Soviet Union Ukraine has formed almost 22-24% of GDP of the USSR. As a result, the significant area of mining operations has been formed – 20 thousand km² or 3.3% of the total area of the state. Currently, the mining and processing of mineral resources in Ukraine covers almost 1/3 part of production assets, 20% of employment and 25% of GDP of the state. Mining industry also dominates in the GDP structure of independent Ukraine, although for comparison in the U.S. it is 2.6% of GDP, in Germany – 1.1%, in France – 0.8%, and in Japan – 0.6%.

Since 70 years of the twentieth century there has been a decline in the coal industry of Ukraine. This has been primarily due to the overall difficult economic situation in the country, instability of the industry, exhaustion of balance reserves, unprofitability of most mines, difficult mining and geological conditions and the lack of a new mine construction. This has led to mass closure of mines. The longterm use of mineral resources in the mining regions resulted in significant changes in the environment and occurrence of emergency situations. Closure of coal mines leads to negative environmental consequences, such as hydrogeological, hydrochemical, gas chemical, engineering and geological.

Considerable part of the liquidated mines has been closed by “wet” conservation method, which has resulted in significant environmental and geological problems, since the flooding of mines increases a man-caused impact on the lithosphere and hydrosphere. Large areas of coal-measure rocks intercepted by mine workings led to deformation of the earth's surface and destruction of residential and industrial objects. Besides, most of liquidated mines are associated with the operating ones and the changes occurring in them affect the existing mines (Hoshovski 2000).

Coal mining is accompanied by significant inflows of water into mine workings, since the production of 1 tonn of Ukrainian coal involves about 3 m3 of groundwater. It should be noted that for decades no proper attention was paid to the issues of treatment of mine waters on the mining enterprises. Also there remain unresolved issues of treatment of mine waters collected in gathering ponds of closed mines as well as no standards for their carrying back to the hydrographic network have been developed. In 2010 about 36.5 million m3 of highly mineralized mine waters discharged to the surface from the closed mines of Donbas. As for other regions, on the earth's surface of Chervonohrad mining region, which is one of the largest region in the Lviv-Volyn coal basin, there are 200 million m3 of mine water with a total mineralization of 6-8 g / l. Besides, mine waters are contaminated with mineral salts, suspended solids, sulphates that leads to pollution of water tables and violation of their hydrological regime (Phillip Pack 2009).

In case of “dry” conservation of mines the adverse effect on the environment lies in a discharge of mine waters into the surface water bodies. This method of mine closure leads to exhaustion and pollution of water resources, both surface and underground.

In general, every year about 400 million m3 of rock are extracted in the process of underground coal mining in Ukraine. According to the data of Scientific Production Association “Mechanic”, for over 200 years of the development of coal deposits in Ukraine 1100 heaps covering 6.300 hectares of fertile land were formed.

According to the experts each million tons of Ukrainian coal requires about four hectares of land for storage of rock. Lack of vegetation on the waste heaps causes their erosion both by water and air, which further leads to a negative impact on the environment.

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