Mountaintop removal – also known as mountaintop mining and MTR, is basically a kind of mining practice in which the mountain top is removed with the help of explosives in order to extract the coal that is present underneath it. This procedure is opposite to the traditional practices of mining in which a tunnel is dug manually through the mountains. However, MTR is not as simple as it seems. It needs millions of explosives to get the desired results.
A lot of people praise and practice Mountaintop mining because it is an efficient process of gaining coal that doesn’t require much effort. Also, MTR is cost-effective as compare to the other mining practices. On the other hand, it has received a lot of criticism and hate as well because of the negative effects it leaves on the environment and people’s life. In order to know more about this two-sided argument, you should be aware of its pros and cons. But before that, let’s dig into some past facts about MTR.
History – how MTR got so popular among people?
MTR, a unique form of mining, was first practiced in the late 1960s. However, it remained a small-scaled process until the 1990s. Today, Mountain top removal is known as a major form of mining coal. It is mainly seen in Kentucky and West Virginia which comes on the second and third number when we talk about largest coal-producing states. Whereas, Wyoming still tops the chart.
There are a lot of factors responsible for the rise of MTR. Some of them are below:
- In 1990, the changes in Clean Air Act encouraged many companies to extract low-sulfur coal. This type of coal is found abundantly in central Appalachia, and MTR is the easiest way to get the most out of it in less time.
- Secondly, Mountaintop mining doesn’t require a lot of labours as compare to the traditional underground mining. It has the ability to move 100 cubic yards surface in a single go.
- MTR is comparatively an expensive process. You don’t have to pay a lot of labours and spend on heavy machinery. Therefore, companies find it the easy way out.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Mountaintop Removal
As mentioned earlier, mountaintop removal is way different from traditional mining practices. Instead of digging a tunnel through the mountains, this method blows off the entire summit by using explosives to expose the mineral seams hidden underneath. However, this process too has its share of advantages and disadvantages. Some of the most popular ones are listed right below.
1. Comparatively Cheaper than Other Methods
When compared to traditional forms of coal mining, this method appears as a less expensive option. However, this does not mean that it needs zero investments. As a matter of fact, the explosives and machinery required to execute MTR on the highest mines in the world are quite costly. Regardless, mountaintop removal saves your time as well as money since it cuts down the need of hiring additional workers.
2. Provides High Paying Jobs and Less Health Risk for Miners
Mountaintop removal calls for skillful mining, which naturally translates into a higher earning potential for interested individuals. Furthermore, since a lot of these mines tend to exist in some of the poorest areas of the world; the mountaintop mining is likely to bring in an economic boost in the region. In addition to this, MTR is much safer for miners as their chances of getting injured from going underground or facing any sort of inconvenience on site is minimized.
3. More Efficient than Other Coal Mining Strategies
According to research, it is proven that the mountaintop removal is one of the most superior forms of mining. In fact, in certain situations, MTR enables miners to access thin seams of coal, that wouldn’t have been accessible otherwise (when traditional underground mining methods were used). Thus, it enhances efficiency by facilitating the coal industry save more time by collectively blasting away huge amounts of soil and sand from the mountain summit.
Furthermore, rather than digging a tunnel through the mountain for hours through conventional methods, miners can easily extract minerals using powerful machines. Not only does this require fewer man-hours, but also safely lowers workers from the surface to the tunnel formed so that they may easily bring out the mined coal or minerals.
1. Higher Level of Health and Safety Hazards
According to a study from West Virginia University, MTR has been linked with cancer. What this means is that people residing in localities (where MTR is done frequently) are at higher risks of developing lung cancer, breathing issues as well as heart diseases. They are prone to facing the fallout of millions of pounds of mining explosives, silica dust and pulverized heavy metals in the waterways. Moreover, high rates of birth defects have also been discovered in newborns due to the same reason.
Although several coal companies argue that mountaintop removal is safer for miners, the process is still somewhat dangerous due to the explosives used. Besides, faulty materials and certain techniques used in MTR can even lead to serious accidents and deaths.
2. Harmful to The Environment & Wildlife
Another destructive disadvantage of mountaintop removal is the adverse impact it leaves on the environment and wildlife that dwells nearby. Prior to initiating the MTR process, miners proceed to clear all the forestation or animals from the mining site. This, in return, harms the species and the biodiversity existing there. Moreover, an increase in erosion and flooding is also expected as a consequence, eventually causing landslides to become more prevalent.
There have been studies that show how 1.4 million acres of forestation has been destroyed over the years by MTR. According to the World Wildlife Fund, Appalachia contains a highly diversified group of animals as well as plants similar to those found in several temperate deciduous forests around the world. Unfortunately, the area is also accustomed to the most damaging mining practices.
3. Unfavorable Impact on Local Water Bodies
Despite the fact that all mining work is done by drilling through mountains, the process is seen to adversely alter the quality of the local ground water that is available to the community. The major reason for this is the insensitive dumping of byproducts that contain a high number of metals into water bodies which cuts down the beneficial minerals already present there. Moreover, apart from clean water scarcity for humans residing nearby, various fish species dwelling in these streams also get affected due to the polluted water.
The United States of America uses coals mainly to produce electricity. Hence, a lot of coal is needed to fulfill the requirement. Therefore, mining business is on the rise there. Out of traditional practices, Mountaintop removal is one of the most used mining procedures. However, this is a controversial topic for a lot of people. Some find it beneficial while the rest look at its downside. Government officials, mining companies and ordinary citizens need to find out a balance between the pros and cons of MTR to maximize its benefits.