TXU Energy Mining Keeps Clean Environment in Mind
The Ark-Tex region is replete with lignite, which runs in seams much closer to the surface than its Appalachian neighbors and is much easier to mine.
Lignite, though, is a lower-grade type of coal, and one company operating in the region has taken measures for decades to avoid coal mining’s bad rap, setting the standard for reclaiming mined land.
TXU Corp.’s Monticello Mines complex includes the Winfield North Mine and Winfield South Mine, near Mount Pleasant; and Thermo Mine, near Sulphur Springs. All three feed the Monticello Steam Electric Station, a plant run by Luminant, a TXU subsidiary that produces electricity for Texas.
The Monticello mining began in the early 1970s. The company has since reclaimed more than 19,000 acres of mined land there with trees, native grasses and wildlife, creating wetlands, ponds and streams as well. TXU and Luminant have won numerous state, industry and federal awards for their environmental work.
“We are very proud of efforts and believe they are second to none,” says Sid Stroud, Luminant’s environmental mining manager.
At roughly 60 million years old, lignite is “just a baby” compared to other types of coal, Stroud says. Lignite is strip-mined after removing 60 to 80 feet of topsoil and dirt; uncovered bands may be miles long but 150 feet wide, and four to 10 feet deep. Below another layer of clay and sediment is another band of lignite. The deepest lignite mine may hit a few hundred feet, well above any groundwater or main water-bearing aquifers, Stroud says.
As soon as one area is mined, the reclamation begins. The new dirt removed as the pit moves across the landscape is used to backfill the area just mined. “Then we come in with bulldozers, level the ground and plant it with trees and grasses and restore the landscape as it existed,” Stroud says.
It sounds simple, but TXU’s reclamation program has evolved over decades of study and research. The company has environmental staff in Dallas and at each mining operation. The company started reclamation before any federal or state regulations required it, back in the early 1970s. Since then, TXU has planted more than 25 million trees in Texas. Because pine forests and pasture lands dominate the Monticello area, it works out to about 400 trees an acre. At least 20 different hardwoods go into the ground, along with grasses and other plants aimed at attracting back native wildlife.
“There was a general consensus you couldn’t plant trees on mined land and we didn’t accept that,” Stroud says. “The way we look at it, it was the right thing to do.”
The results have been well recognized and led to the creation of a special “Director’s Award” by the federal Office of Surface Mining. Agriculture, wildlife and fisheries programs at the Monticello mines have been lauded by the Nature Conservancy of Texas, the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, the Railroad Commission of Texas (which regulates mining in the state), the Interstate Mining Compact and the Office of Surface Mining.
A few years back, Stroud took a group that included the railroad commission chairman on a tour through reclaimed areas near Monticello. Impressed by the site, one man all but gasped when the tour vehicle came upon a scrubby area, demanding to know what had happened.
“We had just left the mined land,” Stroud says. “It was native land.”