Low pH waters in the vicinity of Oak Hill Mine : a statistical evaluation of water quality



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Lignite (brown coal) mine-mouth power plants supply a significance portion of electricity generated annually in Texas. Most lignite is produced from the Wilcox Group at surface mines located near a power plant. At the Oak Hill Mine, a lignite mine in the Sabine Uplift area of northeast Texas, the presence of low pH seeps has delayed the release of some portions of the reclaimed land from bond of some until all surface water bodies achieves a stable pH between 6 and 9. But this federal requirement may require an artificial elevation of surface water pH above the natural range for low volume, groundwater-fed surface water bodies in that region. The primary objective of this thesis is to determine whether the distribution of groundwater pH at Oak Hill Mine has become more acidic as a result of mining activity. This study shows that low pH (<6.0) groundwater was common within the mine permit area prior to mining activities; the 95% confidence interval for the median pH of overburden pre-disturbance (OP) wells is 4.7 to 4.8. This naturally occurring, low pH groundwater is produced by the weathering (oxidative dissolution) of pyrite in the Carrizo Sand and overburden Wilcox Group. Although low pH groundwater occurs naturally within the Oak Hill Mine permit area, groundwater pH has also decreased (groundwater has become more acidic) as a result of mining activities. The 95% confidence interval for the median pH of overburden reclamation (OR) wells is 4.1 to 4.2, indicating that mining activities has changed the median groundwater pH by approximately -0.5 standard units. Underburden groundwater is less acidic than overburden groundwater, but also becomes more acidic after mining activities. Underburden pre-disturbance (UP) groundwater has a median pH of 6.2 to 6.3 at the 95% confidence interval, whereas underburden reclamation (UR) groundwater has a median pH of 5.6 to 5.8 at the 95% confidence interval.