By some estimates, the mine fire under Centralia, Pennsylvania will burn for another 250 years. That’s a lot more heat, smoke, and steam!
Seeing this future, a few enterprising individuals have suggested that the fire might be harnessed and turned into something more productive – like electricity. While this is a fascinating proposition, there are significant obstacles that stand in the way of such a project ever getting off the ground.
First and foremost, the borough of Centralia is presently under the control of the State of Pennsylvania. It has been so since it was acquired through eminent domain in 1993. This makes it difficult for any private company to come in, purchase the land, and begin a power generation project.
Second, the fire is a moving target. Power generation requires a consistent, reliable source of energy – like sun or nuclear fuel. Since the fire began in 1962, the burn zone has moved thousands of feet to the west, east, and south. Any project to capture its heat, would have to follow the path of the fire, which is traveling at approximately 75 feet per year.
Third, power generated through superheated steam requires water. This is why the majority of power plants are located near large bodies of water such as rivers and oceans. Centralia, PA is situated on top of a mountain. The only significant sources of water up there are buried deep within the ground.
Fourth and most importantly, the financial returns on such a project would have to outweigh the initial money invested. Digging hundreds of feet underground in order heat pipes of water would certainly be costly. Electricity is sold for relatively cheap in the United States. This doesn’t provide much confidence that a hypothetical power plant would generate much of a profit.
Centralia, Pennsylvania still has enough coal under the town to keep the mine fire burning for a few more centuries. That said, using it to generate power doesn’t appear particularly feasible or economical.
It’s a legend for us that live here in PA. Everyone I know is fascinated about it and went to see it. I never did and now I heard you can’t go there. I would Love to see it. I hope to get to see it before I die. It’s so cool and erie.God Love them if there is still people living there.
Steph, you can go there. PA Routes 51 and 42 intersect in the center of town. There really isn’t much to see anymore. There are about six houses standing and about 10 people live there. The Ukrainian Catholic church north of town still has weekly services. There are still three cemeteries in town. Most of the other buildings are gone. It’s not a ghost town with abandoned buildings. It’s mostly a bunch of roads that are no longer maintained so they’re run over with trees and weeds. Graffiti highway was covered with dirt because people trespassed and it got to be a safety hazard. Anyway, if you’d like to visit here’s a map: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Centralia,+PAfirstname.lastname@example.org,-76.3520981,15z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x89c58cbefe94c4cf:0xf7be64e7f786ec3!8m2!3d40.8042541!4d-76.3405035 Just be respectful of private party and don’t stare at the citizens like it’s some kind of zoo.
What a pity that all that smoldering coal can’t be used to generate electricity. I guess one can’t always make lemonade from lemons.
It seems to me with all the technology we have there should be some way to harness that fire and as you draw out all the energy the fire will dissipate as you use it all up but the way I understand it if something isn’t done it will continue 2 keep on burning potentially 4 miles we can go to Mars but we can’t utilize this tremendous amount of energy burning Underground
The author is a pessimist
It’s only moving at 75 feet per year. Think about that. It could be stopped, and at this point in time it is a huge waste of resources.
With the current pipes coming out of the ground, it seems like instead of burying cold water pipes, just use the steam coming off of those to spin turbines. It’s already being discharged into the air, might as well have it spin an impeller on its way out.