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
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.
Links related to article and references
- More mine images on the Earth Observatory
- Coal Controversy in Appalachia
- EPA Releases Preliminary Results for Surface Coal Mining Permit Reviews