Monday, 29 January 2024

The Environmental Impact of Longwall Mining

The Environmental Impact of Longwall Mining

Longwall mining, a method of slicing through thick coal seams with mechanized shearers, has become the world's dominant method of coal production. While it provides efficiency and high yields, its environmental impact is significant. Understanding these consequences is critical for responsible resource management and mitigating potential harm.

Longwall mining coal dominates the Indonesian coal extraction landscape. The efficiency and high yield of this method are undeniable, powering homes and industries across the archipelago. However, its environmental impact is significant, raising concerns and driving research into cleaner, more sustainable practices.

What is a Longwall in Mining?

Longwall mining is a large-scale operation that, unlike traditional mining methods, involves excavating tunnels and removing coal in smaller chunks. Consider traveling through tunnels the size of football fields to explore a subterranean world. Instead of narrow veins, you will come across vast coal walls that stretch for kilometers and dwarf even the tallest building.

This is the reality of Indonesia's longwall operations, which are primarily concentrated in South Sumatra and East Kalimantan. Mechanized shearers, similar to robotic behemoths, slice through these geological titans, leaving behind a goaf (waste from previous mining works) trail of collapsed rock and coal. 

Longwall mining in Indonesia is defined by this continuous process, which accounts for more than 60% of the country's coal production, similar to carving bread from a giant loaf. It encapsulates the essence of longwall mining—a feat of engineering ingenuity that comes at a high environmental cost. 

What is Longwall Mining Suitable For?

Longwall mining excels at extracting thick, flat coal seams with minimal disruption to geological structures. Its high productivity, efficiency, and safety features make it appealing for large-scale coal operations. However, its suitability comes at a high price in terms of complexity and environmental impact.

Environmental Impacts of Longwall Mining:

1. Land Subsidence

Subsidence occurs as the goaf collapses and the overlying ground sinks. This can cause infrastructure damage, disrupt water flow, and even endanger settlements.  Mitigation measures such as leaving coal pillars or injecting grout can reduce subsidence but cannot completely eliminate it.  

In Indonesia, a comprehensive study conducted by renowned expert Dr. Heri Andreas and colleagues at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) titled "Mapping and Analysis of Land Subsidence Impacts in Jakarta Area" (2014) sheds light on the specificities of Indonesian subsidence patterns and highlights the challenges of applying guidelines developed in other countries to the unique geological conditions of Indonesian coal seams. Their research suggests alternative pillar design strategies and monitoring techniques to reduce subsidence risks.

2. Water Pollution

Contaminants can be released into groundwater and surface water sources as a result of mining activities. Water quality and aquatic ecosystems are jeopardized by coal dust, acidic drainage from waste rock, and unintentional spills. To mitigate these effects, responsible waste management and treatment are essential.

3. Air Pollution

Coal dust from mining and blasting can travel long distances, contributing to air pollution and respiratory problems in nearby communities. Dust control and monitoring are critical for mitigating this impact.

4. Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Coal is a fossil fuel, and its extraction and combustion significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, hastening climate change. While longwall operations in Indonesia strive for efficiency, their contribution to overall emissions remains significant. The urgency of transitioning to cleaner energy sources, such as the Indonesian government's ambitious renewable energy plans, becomes clear.

5. Biodiversity Loss

Mining operations have the potential to disrupt ecosystems, fragment habitats, and endanger plant and animal species. Responsible planning and restoration efforts are critical for mitigating biodiversity impacts.

How to Balance Resource Demands and Environmental Concerns

Indonesia faces a complex dilemma. Longwall mining is an important source of energy and employment, powering industries and supporting livelihoods.  However, the environmental consequences necessitate responsible action. A multi-pronged approach is required to strike a balance between resource extraction and sustainability.

Technological breakthroughs

Emissions can be reduced by developing cleaner coal processing technologies and methane capture from gob areas. This innovative technology extracts and uses potent greenhouse gas methane through horizontal wells within the goaf, reducing emissions and generating clean energy.

Regulatory frameworks

Stricter environmental regulations and enforcement of compliance are critical to reducing the ecological footprint.

Participation in the community

Communication with affected communities must be open and transparent in order to build trust and address concerns.

Transition to renewable energy

Investing in renewable energy sources is the long-term solution to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and mitigating mining's environmental impacts.

Pamapersada Nusantara: A Beacon of Sustainability

One company leading the charge towards sustainable longwall mining in Indonesia is PT. Pamapersada Nusantara. Committed to responsible resource extraction, PT. Pamapersada Nusantara implements innovative practices and technologies to minimize the environmental impact of their operations.

Here are some notable examples of Pamapersada Nusantara's efforts:

Advanced Backfilling Techniques

PT. Pamapersada Nusantara employs a technique known as "paste backfilling" rather than allowing the goaf to collapse naturally. This entails injecting a fly ash and water mixture into the void, resulting in a stable and environmentally friendly fill material. This not only reduces subsidence but also repurposes waste, lowering the environmental impact.

Blasting with Precision

PT. Pamapersada Nusantara reduces dust generation and air pollution by using computer-controlled blasting techniques, thereby improving the health and well-being of the surrounding communities.

Management of Water Resources

Recognizing the value of clean water, PT. Pamapersada Nusantara implements robust water treatment systems and water recycling initiatives to reduce water pollution and promote responsible water use.

Community Engagement

PT. Pamapersada Nusantara engages actively with local communities, providing transparency about their operations and addressing concerns through open communication and collaborative programs.

The future of longwall mining lies in finding ways to minimize its environmental footprint while maximizing its benefits. By embracing technological innovation, implementing stricter regulations, and transitioning towards cleaner energy sources, we can ensure responsible resource extraction for a sustainable future. By understanding the environmental impacts of longwall mining and implementing appropriate mitigation strategies, we can strive towards a future where resource extraction and sustainability coexist, ensuring a healthy planet for generations to come.

Share this article: