A team of West Virginia University experts is part of a new consortium of major research universities formed to analyze the environmental impacts of producing and using Appalachia’s energy resources.

WVU researchers are lending their expertise to the Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Sciences – a consortium of seven major universities led by the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech with support from private industry.

Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the WVU-based West Virginia Water Research Institute, said the consortium, called ARIES, will help study upstream and downstream issues related to the energy sector.

“For the past 10 years the WRI has been working with faculty to develop skills in the areas critical to this issue and now that investment has been recognized by having WVU invited to participate in this important opportunity,” Ziemkiewicz said. “We look forward to working with Virginia Tech, the University of Kentucky and the other members of ARIES.”

The WVU faculty team includes Todd Petty from Wildlife and Fisheries Resources; Mike Strager, Resource Management; Jeff Skousen and Louis McDonald, Plant and Soil Science, all in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design; and Vlad Kecojevic, John Quaranta and Leslie Hopkinson from the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.

ARIES is intended to use sound science and research to enable continued development of the region’s energy resources in a safe and environmentally protective way.

In addition to WVU and Virginia Tech, ARIES participants include: University of Kentucky, Ohio State University, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

ARIES will initially focus its studies on the coal industry, conducting scientific inquiry and research, publishing findings, and disseminating research results to all stakeholders.

“The talent and expertise resident in the participating universities represents some of the best researchers in the field,” WVU Vice President for Research and Economic Development Curt M. Peterson said. “Our multidisciplinary WVU team is a prime example of the kind of expertise that can help the consortium make a difference in the challenges of protecting human health and the quality of life, and improving mining practices.”

According to the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research, ARIES will:

  • evaluate the effects of coal mining on streams and biological communities in the region;
  • investigate methods for effectively minimizing water discharges through alternative water management practices and treating water prior to discharge;
  • develop analytical tools to allow mine planners to locate, isolate, and manage strata that may generate releases of environmental concern; and
  • assess improved placement designs and spearheading development of mining engineering systems and practices that can improve environmental performance and accountability.

ARIES industrial partners include: Alpha Natural Resources, International Coal Group, Massey Energy, Natural Resource Partners, TECO Coal Corp., Patriot Coal Corp., Cliffs Natural Resources, Mepco and Norfolk Southern. The partners have committed to fund ARIES with a $12.5 million grant over the next five years.



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