One of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s claims to fame is its overabundance of the natural resource anthracite coal. From the late 1800s to the middle of the 20th century, the anthracite mines of NEPA helped fuel the local economy and helped usher in the industrial revolution in the United States.
Anthracite coal was heralded as the superior form of coal. It’s more pure, harder and has a higher content of carbon than any other type of coal, and the overwhelming majority of its deposits reside in the roughly 500 square miles that is Northeastern Pennsylvania.
At the height of its popularity, the anthracite coal fields employed around 175,000 workers, mostly immigrants. As new technologies emerged and other natural resources became more readily available, cheaper, and easier to use, the anthracite coal industry suffered downsize after downsize.
However, the anthracite industry is not completely defunct, and there are still companies mining the coal today with an estimated 2,000 workers in the anthracite coal industry.
So what’s all this talk about clean coal technology? Would it mean the revitalization of the anthracite industry, and could it mean more employment opportunities in NEPA?
Possibly yes, but most likely no, at least not for some time.
It seems there is some misconstrued information that clean coal technology means people will be back in the mines digging out the remaining deposits of anthracite, but that’s not really the case. Clean coal technology calls for the capturing and storing of carbon emissions from coal plants.
There’s a new type of coal-fire power plant, called an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, that transforms coal into gas to generate electricity more cleanly and efficiently than traditional coal plants. Unfortunately, only a handful have been built in the United States.
Scientists are also working on ways to capture carbon dioxide and store it underground. With this idea, there are three forms of storing the carbon: old coal mines, porous underground rock formations, and offshore oil fields.
Northeastern Pennsylvania can help in two of those categories, and with those methods, the stored carbon dioxide is absorbed by the coal in the mines and underground rock formations which release methane gas that can later be tapped into use for us.
If you could talk to any coal miner, one thing is certain: there has never been a stranger oxymoron than “clean coal” because coal, even anthracite, which is the cleaner coal, is not clean. The technology to turn coal into a “clean” energy source is very expensive and may not be sustainable.
Some of the clean coal planned technologies are decades away before becoming commercially available. With the push for more environmentally friendly energy sources, clean coal promises to lessen the increasingly severe climactic effects of coal emissions.
Clean coal may not be the answer or the solution anytime soon, but as the environment becomes more of a concern for the average citizen, it may be idea that this region might want to consider as an opportunity to usher in a new era under its anthracite coal fields.