Mountain Mining

What is Mountain Top Removal Mining

soil erosion, tree-less mountainsSummer activities and adventure are fun and exciting, especially when you are with families and friends. People take the time to enjoy the scenic views, the colorful and magnificent vistas from a mountain’s summit.

Mountains are more than hiking destinations and tourist spots; they are also very important habitats for countless wildlife or diverse flora and fauna that help balance the ecosystem. However, due to men’s activities, some of the mountains are facing serious problems and issues.

Have you heard of mountain top removal mining? You can perhaps think of a picture of a mountain with a bald head or a headless mountain from this term.

Often described as the “strip mining on steroids,” mountain top removal mining is a type of coal mining that originated in the Appalachian Mountains in the 1970s. It is an extension of conventional strip-mining techniques that is an extremely destructive form. It is devastating Appalachia as coal companies are increasingly using this method because it allows for almost complete recovery of coal seams while reducing the number of workers required to a fraction of conventional methods. Excessive mountaintop removal is occurring in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee.

In the past few decades, a huge part of America’s streams and headwaters that are sources of potable water to millions of the country’s populations have been permanently buried and destroyed. An area as big as Delaware has been flattened, and communities that are local coal fields were devastated by floods and had caused adverse health impacts on people. Consequently, the natural habitats of some of the country’s oldest forests vanished.

HOW IS IT DONE

dark view of mountains with a massive smoke from an explosion

Clearing

Before mining activities, all topsoil and vegetation must be removed. The entire mountainside is initially razed by ripping trees from the ground and clearing brush with giant tractors. As coal companies often respond to short-term fluctuations in coal price, the trees often have no commercial value, so they are just burned or sometimes illegally dumped into valleys.

Blasting

The trees uprooted are then burned using explosives that are put on pits. The explosions mountaintops to blown apart. Giant machines called draglines- as big as an entire city block, can scoop up to 100 tons in a single load- push the debris like rock and dirt into nearby streams and valleys, thus burying waterways.

Because many of the Appalachian coal seams lie deep beneath the mountains’ surface, companies blow up the mountains to access these seams as the process usually requires the removal of 600 feet or more of elevation. Millions of pounds of explosives are used to blow up a mountain.

Digging

Enormous earth-moving machines known as draglines are used to remove coal and debris. It is very costly, which can be about $100 million but is preferred by coal companies because they are more efficient than hundreds of miners. Draglines stand 22 stories high and can hold 24 compact cars in their buckets.

Dumping waste

Due to the change in the definition of “fill material” in the Clean Water Act in 2002, under the Bush administration, toxic mining waste was included, which pave the way for coal companies to legally dump the “overburden” or “spoil,” into nearby valleys that have buried more than 2,000 miles of headwater streams and polluted many more.

Processing

Before the coals are shipped to power plants for burning, they must be first chemically treated. The process creates coal slurry, a mix of water, coal dust, and clay containing toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, lead, and chromium. The coal slurry is often discarded in open impoundments that are sometimes built with mining debris, making them very unstable.

CAT 7395 dragline

RECLAMATION

Despite the federal law requiring reclamation efforts, coal companies often receive waivers from state agencies to think that economic development will occur on the newly flattened land. However, most sites are unfortunate enough to receive little more than a spraying of exotic grass seed. Less than 3% of reclaimed mountaintop removal sites are utilized for the development of the economy. An impact statement on mountaintop removal in Appalachia from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that it may take hundreds of years for a forest to re-establish on the mine site.

Meanwhile, in a 2009 study, there are nearly 1.2 million acres to date had been surface mined for coal, and more than 500 mountains destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining. In some counties, like Wise County, Va., surface mining has impacted nearly 40 percent of the land area.

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