Fire Earth

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Posts Tagged ‘Office of Surface Mining’

Mountaintop Removal: Satellite Images

Posted by feww on March 3, 2010

Dreaming of a Flat Earth!

Mountaintop removal is a major violation of nature with deadly consequences—Fire-Earth

“There has been a global, 30-year increase in surface mining, which is now the dominant driver of land-use change in the central Appalachian ecoregion of the United States. One major form of such mining, mountaintop mining with valley fills, is widespread throughout eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, and southwestern Virginia. Upper elevation forests are cleared and stripped of topsoil, and explosives are used to break up rocks to access buried coal. Excess rock (mine ‘spoil’) is pushed into adjacent valleys, where it buries existing streams.” Mountaintop Mining Consequences, M. A. Palmer et al.

Growth of Mountaintop Removal, West Virginia, 1984-2009

Click images to enlarge

large image
(0.73 MB, JPEG)             acquired September 17, 1984

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(683 KB, JPEG)                            acquired June 2, 2009

ohio valley env coalition
Closeup: Mountaintop removal. Photo by Vivian Stockman; source: OVEC; flyover courtesy SouthWings. [Original caption: What does it say about human nature that we allow this kind of destruction to go on?]

The following is a recent feature article by NASA Earth Observatory :

Mountaintop Mining, West Virginia

Below the densely forested slopes of southern West Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains is a layer cake of thin coal seams. To uncover this coal profitably, mining companies engineer large—sometimes very large—surface mines. This time-series of images of a surface mine in Boone County, West Virginia, illustrates why this controversial mining method is also called “mountaintop removal.”

Based on data from NASA’s Landsat 5 satellite, these natural-color (photo-like) images document the growth of the Hobet mine as it moves from ridge to ridge between 1984 to 2009. The natural landscape of the area is dark green, forested mountains, creased by streams and indented by hollows. The active mining areas appear off-white, while areas being reclaimed with vegetation appear light green. A pipeline roughly bisects the images from north to south. The town of Madison, lower right, lies along the banks of the Coal River.

In 1984, the mining operation is limited to a relatively small area west of the Coal River. The mine first expands along mountaintops to the southwest, tracing an oak-leaf-shaped outline around the hollows of Big Horse Creek and continuing in an unbroken line across the ridges to the southwest. Between 1991 and 1992, the mine moves north, and the impact of one of the most controversial aspects of mountaintop mining—rock and earth dams called valley fills—becomes evident.

The law requires coal operators to try to restore the land to its approximate original shape, but the rock debris generally can’t be securely piled as high or graded as steeply as the original mountaintop. There is always too much rock left over, and coal companies dispose of it by building valley fills in hollows, gullies, and streams. Between 1991 and 1992, this leveling and filling in of the topography becomes noticeable as the mine expands northward across a stream valley called Stanley Fork.

The most dramatic valley fill that appears in the series, however, is what appears to be the near-complete filling of Connelly Branch from its source to its mouth at the Mud River between 1996 and 2000. Since 2004, the mine has expanded from the Connelly Branch area to the mountaintops north of the Mud River. Significant changes are apparent to the ridges and valleys feeding into Berry Branch by 2009. Over the 25-year period, the disturbed area grew to more than 10,000 acres (15.6 square miles).

According to a report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, nearly 40 percent of the year-round and seasonal streams in the Mud River watershed upstream of and including Connelly Branch had been filled or approved for filling through 1998. In 2009, the EPA intervened in the approval of a permit to further expand the Hobet mine into the Berry Branch area and worked with mine operators to minimize the disturbance and to reduce the number and size of valley fills.

Still, some scientists argue that current regulations and mitigation strategies are inadequate. After doing a survey of research on mountaintop mining and valley fills, the scientists concluded that the impacts on stream and groundwater quality, biodiversity, and forest productivity were “pervasive and irreversible” and that current strategies for mitigation and restoration were not compensating for the degradation.

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Posted in coal energy, Kentucky, surface mining, valley fills, West Virginia | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Remove mountaintops; fill valleys; kill streams!

Posted by feww on October 19, 2008

Press release

Bush Admin Seeks to Lock Down Destructive Mountaintop Removal Mining Rule

Coalfield residents face continued destruction of their communities and natural resources

October 17, 2008

Washington, DC — The Bush administration is announcing today plans to finalize a major environmental rule change before the end of its term. This afternoon, the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) will release its final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that recommends effectively repealing one of the key programs at issue in the ongoing battle over the controversial coal mining practice known as mountaintop removal.

The specific regulation the OSM is proposing to overturn is the Stream Buffer Zone rule, a Reagan-era restriction on surface coal mining activities that protects a 100-foot corridor around flowing streams in order to preserve water quality. The new rule, which is expected to be finalized in 30 days, will allow coal companies to dump massive waste piles called “valley fills” directly into streams, permanently burying them. Already, more than 2000 miles of Appalachian streams have been buried or degraded by waste from mountaintop removal mining.

Mountaintop removal/valley fill mining operations in southern West Virginia have already flattened more than 300,800 acres of what used to be one of the most productive and biologically-diverse temperate hardwood forests on Earth. The coal industry prefers to call it “mountaintop mining” to try and soften the brutal reality. Some conservation groups have taken to calling the practice “mountain range removal” because that in effect is what it really is – more than 460 square miles [800 sq miles as of 2008] of West Virginia are now low rolling semi-grassy mounds, planted largely with non-native species and incapable of supporting much more life than a shopping mall parking lot (without the shoppers).  Caption: Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. Photo by Vivian Stockman, Oct. 19, 2003. Image may be subject to copyright.

Mountaintop removal coal mining — the most environmentally damaging form of coal strip mining — has received increased national attention in recent weeks as both Presidential candidates have expressed opposition to the practice.

Statement by Joan Mulhern, Earthjustice senior legislative counsel:

“The final EIS is a sham. The agency did not even study, among available alternatives, the option of enforcing the stream buffer rule that has been on the books since 1983. Instead, they pretend that the existing stream buffer law does not apply to valley fills and sludge impoundments, so any minutely incremental effort to ‘minimize’ those waste dumps is, in their version of this, a net benefit to the environment. Of course this is completely backwards.

“They claim their rule is better for the environment when the exact opposite is true. What they are calling a treat is nothing other than a trick.

“This latest move is the capstone to the devastating legacy the Bush administration has left to the communities in Appalachia and to all Americans who care about our nation’s mountains and streams. In just 8 years this administration has allowed coal companies to obliterate mountain ranges that have existed for millennia. Today they are announcing plans to accelerate that destruction into the future and spread it nationwide.” Copyright Earthjustice


Joan Mulhern, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500

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Posted in Appalachian streams, sludge impoundments, Stream Buffer Zone, valley fills, waste dumps | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »