Optimizing Overburden Placement in Surface Mining of Coal

Optimizing Overburden Placement in Surface Mining of Coal

Areas of Study: Mining

Qualifies for CMS

Qualifies for Certification

This course covers measures for long-term reclamation success in coal surface mining, from the nature of inimical overburden materials and potential contamination problems, to mining methods and designs that promote successful reclamation.


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  • Audience Level:
  • Professional
  • Enrollment:
  • Required
  • Duration:
  • 12 hours

Course Summary

Who Should Participate?

  • People active in the design and operation of surface mines for coal and other bedded materials such as china clay, phosphate, tar sands, uranium, etc.
  • People who prepare reclamation plans for these mines.
  • Similarly, people who prepare permit applications and environmental impact assessments for these mines.
  • Environmental resources and reclamation managers

What You Will Learn

Part 1 provides an introduction and glossary of terms.

Part 2 discusses the "Nature of coal-mine overburden," including distribution of coal fields in North America, the kinds of sedimentary strata found typically above and below the coal, the connection between the depositional environment and the types of contaminants found in the overburden, and the connection between rhealogical changes when the overburden is submerged in a groundwater regime and the rock types.

In Part 3 we look at "Overburden Analysis" and the kinds of tests that can be used to predict contamination and rhealogical changes.

Part 4 looks at "Potential reclamation problems from routine overburden handling," which is a catalog of potential problems and is meant to reinforce the need for good planning of overburden handling.

Part 5 goes over the process of "Disposal of inimical material," which is often essential to the economic success of a surface mine but can lead, if done haphazardly, to the need for almost perpetual care and treatment of discharged waters.

In Part 6 we get to the heart of the course, for which the earlier materials provide the foundation, "Improved handling techniques of surface coal-mine overburden." Examples are presented and diagnosed for each of the major coal surface-mining geometries.

Part 7 - Conclusions reviews the major parts of the course and suggests that individual designs, responsive to the goals of the course, may need to be tested on sophisticated mine-design software to optimize production before buying capital goods.


The course comprises 20 learning sessions, each of 30 - 60 minutes duration, plus supporting figures, tables, images, references, suggested exercises, and interactive reviews that confirm achievement of the learning objectives. The total duration of the course is estimated at 12 hours.

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify long-term, sustainable reclamation techniques that are based on environmentally sound foundations.
  • Recognize the consequences of poor overburden handling techniques.
  • Recognize improved methods that are environmentally stable.

Recommended Background

  • Participants should be fluent in the technology and methods of surface mining. This may come from experience and/or formal education.

Lee Saperstein

Dr. Saperstein has a B. S. in Mining Engineering from the Montana School of Mines and a D. Phil. in engineering science from Oxford University, which he attended as a Rhodes Scholar. He has been a mining engineering faculty member at The Pennsylvania State University, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Missouri-Rolla. He was Dean of the School of Mines and Metallurgy at UMR for 11 years. He is a licensed Professional Engineer and is an expert in the environmental impacts of mining. He has also served ABET, Inc, the recognized accreditor for engineering, as its President. He is a Distinguished Member of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, Inc. (SME), a Fellow of ABET and holder of its Grinter Award, and recognized as a Distinguished Alumni by Montana Tech.