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Casselman Coal Mining May Be Gaining Steam

July 23, 2008

By Sarah Moses, Cumberland Times News, Md.

Jul. 23–FROSTBURG — While there is little question among those involved that the coal reserves beneath the Casselman Basin will become a coal mine, what will be done with the coal is still in question.

“This is all still very preliminary,” Sen. George Edwards said. “The mine’s going to go, but I think there is interest, at least from companies, to move plans forward. We have energy problems in the country. We have energy problems in the state. We need to use our own resources.”

The underground mine would be located in the Casselman Basin, which runs beneath Grantsville. It is the southern part of the Somerset or Berlin Basin located in Pennsylvania, and this portion is estimated to contain about 116 million tons of coal, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. According to the state Bureau of Mines, about 40 million to 50 million tons of that coal is recoverable.

Edwards said this makes up one of the largest untapped resources for coal in the area.

Representatives from local and state government along with various companies and members of the Bureau of Mines met at the Days Inn on Tuesday to discuss the potential of a mine at this location.

About 30 years ago, Edwards said, there was talk of what could become a technology park based in the interest of generating and transmitting energy. He said with the knowledge that coal was beneath that area of the basin, there was talk of building a coal plant, connecting it to transmission lines and utilizing the energy from the coal.

There was also discussion of damming up the northern part of the Casselman River for additional power generation, creating a lake that Edwards said he’d always hoped could be used for recreation and tourism.

This, Edwards said, is once again being discussed as a potential option with the coal mine planned to be located somewhere on the Casselman Basin.

Steven Carpenter, corporate risk manager and director of carbon and international business for Marshall Miller & Associates Inc. of Bluefield, Va., presented information on a growing trend in preventing greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants. Carbon capture and storage would first contain and then store the carbon dioxide emissions of coal plants.

The gas is captured through various systems, some of which would collect the gas prior to combustion of the coal and others post-combustion.

Carpenter said companies have looked into the possibility of storing the captured gas in the ocean, but consider that as a temporary solution because the gas would eventually rise to the surface and be released into the atmosphere.

Instead, Carpenter said coal plants are looking into natural geological ways to sequester the gas. This includes salt deposits, depleted oil and gas reservoirs and unmineable coal seams.

Carpenter said in some cases, by injecting the carbon dioxide into natural gas reservoirs, the additional pressure from the carbon dioxide forces the gas out at a greater rate, increasing the production of that reservoir.

Already, AES Warrior Run, located in Mexico Farms, contains about 4 percent of its carbon dioxide gases, according to Larry Cantrell, plant manager. That gas is then safe for use in carbonated beverages.

He said even at just 4 percent of the plant’s total carbon dioxide gas emissions, the process for capture is expensive.

Jerry Duckett of Terra Alta, W.Va., a private consultant who has done work for the federal government, said there might even be the potential to use the site as a location for study of coal-to-liquid technology. Duckett said he has seen this process work in countries like South Africa, which is completely independent of traditional oil and uses coal to produce it instead.

Working with area colleges, it could be an ideal location for the construction of such a plant, if even a small one, to test and study the process, he said.

Adrienne Ottaviani, executive director of the Maryland Coal Association, said she felt the meeting Tuesday showed there is some definite interest and that those from state government to private industry would like to see the discussions on Casselman Basin move forward.

“I feel it was productive,” Ottaviani said. “What we were looking for was: Was there interest to move forward? I think we’ve seen that.”

Contact Sarah Moses at smoses@times-news.com.

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