Coal In Ohio
Source: Hunt, Spencer. Closing Old Wounds. The Columbus Dispatch, March 5, 2006.
The Appalachian region of Ohio is noted for its coal industry. In fact, coal is Ohio’s principal mineral and it was one of the economic mainstays in Ohio from the 1870s through the 1920s when over 13,300 mine entrances and air shafts where built in Ohio’s 26 county Appalachian region. Coal deposits are found in 32 eastern Ohio counties. Today, only 19 of 60 separate seams of coal are being mined.
Ohio still depends on its soft sulfur-rich coal as an important ingredient for the economic vitality of the state. We are always looking for ways to make Ohio’s coal friendlier for the environment. Now, sixty percent of it is washed before burning and Ohio has six scrubbers for post combustion cleaning to reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide it releases into the air. Ninety percent of Ohio’s coal is used by coal-fired electric power plants. Ohio is aggressively competing for the first zero-emissions, clean burning coal gasification plant. The federal government plans to build and operate the project, known as FutureGen, in 2010.
Coal has a fascinating history. Ohio’s coal had its origin hundreds of million years ago in ancient wetlands, near shallow tropical seas, where layer upon layer of plant material were deposited, forming peat. These thick layers of peat were then compressed by hundreds of feet- and millions of pounds- of overlying rock. Under tremendous pressure and heat, the peat eventually was changed into coal Some people call coal the first form of solar energy, since the plants depended on the sun for their growth.
Ohio’s coal is known as bituminous coal. When it is burned, it produces heat at the average rate of 12,500 Btus. A Btu (British thermal unit) is the standard unit measurement for heating value and is defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water, one degree Fahrenheit.
Today coal is no longer mined like it was in Ohio’s early days. Abandoned mines cause serious environmental problems. When coal is exposed to water and air, chemical reactions occur. When water touches the pyrite in the coal, it forms iron and sulfuric acid. The reaction is rapid. The sulfuric acid is released into the air and the iron with other minerals in the coal can be washed away by rain, and enter streams and rivers. These occurrences can change the acidity of the water from a normal 5 to 7 on the acidity scale to a 2 or 3 – an acidic content more like vinegar or orange juice and far too acid to support life.
Under these conditions, creeks and soil will turn colors depending on the main minerals released from the coal into the water. An orange color indicates iron and gives the contaminated water a rusty color. A white color indicates a high level of aluminum in the water.
Historically, the Governor’s Residence has a strong connection to the coal industry. Both private owners of the home worked for the Jeffrey Manufacturing Company, which produced equipment used for coal mining. Founded by Joseph A. Jeffrey in 1877, the Jeffrey Company manufactured the first power driven coal-cutter used in the United States. Malcolm Jeffrey who built the house was the youngest son of the founder and the head of the company’s export division. William W. Carlile, the husband of Joseph Jeffrey’s daughter Florence was chief legal counsel for the company. Florence and William Carlile were the last private owners of the residence. The Jeffery Manufacturing Company continued in Columbus until the middle of the 1970s.
There are several big pieces of coal in the Appalachian section of the Heritage Garden at the Governors Residence. Rainwater is slowly dissolving these pieces and creating a rusty colored patch of gravel around their spot. This area is one of the few places where plants do not self-seed.
Come for a visit to the Governors Residence and Heritage Garden and see for yourself the importance of coal in Ohio’s history and the results of the chemical reaction when coal and water mix. It’s a good way to learn about science in the garden.
Sources for more information:
Slucher, Ernie. Summary of Coal in Ohio. Ohio Department of Natural Resources: Ohio Division of Geological Survey, Energy Resources Group.
About the FutureGen Project. www.futuregenalliance.org