Coal mining & the environment

Coal mining requires large areas of land to be temporarily disturbed. Steps are taken in modern mining operations to minimise impacts on all aspects of the environment.

Whitehaven Coal - environmental management

By carefully pre-planning projects, implementing pollution control measures, monitoring the effects of mining and rehabilitating mined areas, the coal industry minimises the impact of its activities on the neighbouring community, the immediate environment and on long-term land capability.

Land disturbance

In best practice, studies of the immediate environment are carried out several years before a coal mine opens in order to define the existing conditions and to identify potential problems. The studies look at the impact of mining on surface and ground water, soils, local land use, native vegetation and wildlife populations. Computer simulations can be undertaken to model impacts on the local environment. The findings are then reviewed as part of the process leading to the award of a mining permit by the relevant government authorities.

  • Minimising environmental impacts
  • Water management
  • Resources

Photo courtesy of Whitehaven Coal

Minimising environmental impacts

Mine subsidence

Mine subsidence is where the ground level lowers as a result of mining taking place beneath it. A thorough understanding of subsistence patterns in a particular region allows the effects of underground mining on the surface to be quantified. The coal mining industry uses a range of engineering techniques to design the layout and dimensions of its underground mine workings so that surface subsidence can be anticipated and controlled.

Water pollution

Mine operations work to improve their water management, aiming to reduce demand through efficiency, technology and the use of lower quality and recycled water. Water pollution is controlled by carefully separating the water runoff from undisturbed areas from water which contains sediments or salt from mine workings. Clean runoff can be discharged into surrounding water courses, while other water is treated and can be reused in processes such as  dust suppression and in coal preparation plants.


Acid mine drainage

Acid mine drainage (AMD) is metal-rich water formed from the chemical reaction between water and rocks containing sulphur-bearing minerals. There are mine management methods that can minimise AMD, and effective mine design can keep water away from acid generating materials and help prevent AMD occurring.

Dust & noise

Dust at mining operations can be caused by trucks being driven on unsealed roads, coal crushing operations, drilling operations and wind blowing over areas disturbed by mining. Dust levels can be controlled by spraying water on roads, stockpiles and conveyors. Other steps can also be taken, including fitting drills with dust collection systems and purchasing additional land surrounding the mine to act as a buffer zone. Trees planted in these buffer zones can also minimise the visual impact of mining operations on local communities. Noise can be controlled through the careful selection of equipment and insulation and sound enclosures around machinery.

Water management

WCA Award for Excellence in Environmental Practice

In 2013, Anglo American received the WCA Award for Excellence in Environmental Practice for its work on the eMalahleni water reclamation project in South Africa. The runner-up was PT Adaro for its work in water management at mining operations in Indonesia. More information on both projects is available in this film.


WCA Sustainable Mining Policy Statement

Anglo American eMalahleni Water Reclamation Plant

Shenhua Group Water Management Programme

PT Adaro Making Water Work

Peabody Energy Ereen Mine Restoration