Saturday, October 20, 2007

How Big is MTR Mining?

I've been on several recent flights out of Charleston's Yeager Airport to various points south. Most of these depart early in the morning while it's still pretty dark, but on one return flight a few weeks ago I was able to get a good look at one of the largest Mountain Top Removal mine site I've seen. People who know tell me it's the Hobet mine near Danville. Here's what it looks like on Google Earth:
Now, here is the same view but with an outline added to define the extremities of the site:
While you can tell it's big, this view lacks any reference points from which you can draw a sense of scale. So let me take the outline off the picture, rotate it a little and plop it down on a picture shot in the same scale of something more recognizable to most of us.

That's the city of Charleston. This MTR sight covers an area that would stretch from the Yeager Bridge on the W.Va. Turnpike to the Patrick Street Bridge, and is wide enough to encompass the whole valley floor, the West Side Hill, and most of South Hills.

You can make up your own mind about how this makes you feel. Please post your comments.


Paul said...

It's disgusting. Like you, I've seen this stuff from the air. The scale of destruction is unimaginable, and I think you have to see it from the air to fully appreciate it.

There's a documentary called "Kilowatt Ours" that explores MTR mining. They interview a guy who lived up what was once a creek hollow, but now looks out over an open man-made plain. The film maker asked if he had any pictures of what it looked like before.

His answer was "no, who ever thought the mountain would disappear?"

Wv Sky said...

Makes me feel GREAT! Let me count the ways:

1...Jobs. Families fed and not on welfare.

2... Independence from foreign oil.

3... Wildlife habitat! I have seen more migratory birds come to rest on mountaintop removal areas because NOW they can! There's often water, open fields, and all the things these birds need. I really think you need to see up close what's going on here:

MountainLaurel said...

I have seen the same thing many many times, and I'm so glad you took the time to get the perspective. This is a powerful statement.

For WV Sky, you'd be surprised at how few miners and families are supported by that one site. here's a hint: it's fewer than the number who have their homes washed away from the changes in the streams and rivers caused by the removal of the mountain. It's also fewer than those who suffer many environmental effects from the practice.

And somehow, I think the number of critter displaced from the practice (deer, bears, possums, raccoons, etc) is greater than the number of birds that roost there. These critters have to go somewhere, so they move to more human-occupied areas, causing nuisances and outright hazards to us.

Do you mind if I crosspost or put a link to Appalachian Greens?

Mining? You betcha! Stripmining? Sure, with proper reclamation. Mountaintop removal? No, for so many reasons.

Charles said...

Sure, Laurel, feel free to link to the post.

And WV Sky, what happens when all the coal is gone and we have no mountains? The Coal Association admits we have 50 years of coal left if we continue mining at current rates. What does Southern WV look like in 2057? Where will the jobs be then? Will we still be independent?

RKD said...

I've seen the destruction from the air as well. The scope is amazing. Yeah, I know all the argurments put forth by King Coal, but as Mountainlaurel points out, with the mechanization that's taken place, the number of jobs actually provided is pretty small and the devastation is huge. Plus, to think that coal companies actually care about the people they impact, through displacement and the destruction of the environment is laughable. They'll take their obsecene profits along with the coal and be gone when the coal is...and we're left with what?
Last I knew, those mountains aren't renewable and aren't going to grow back anytime soon.
I guess we can promote ourselves as the new Wyoming with our own impressive rock walls, but I'd like to leave a better legacy to the coming generations.

clear eyes said...

Get an aisle seat next time and you'll never know. It's much safer for the miners than underground mining. How does miner safety compare to your view from the window of a plane?

MountainLaurel said...

Why am I not surprised at Clear Eyes' response of "Get an aisle seat, you'll never know." That seems to be a typical view from those who worship King Coal.

We have spent too much time putting our heads in the sand and ignoring the problems that are increasing. Again, the problem is NOT the aesthetics as much as the environmental devastation and problems that it causes for groundwater, flooding, contamination, and the list goes on.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, get an asile seat, close the blind, close your eyes, don't look, and everything will be OK.

The coal companies, and many others love that kind of solution. They can do whatever they want and the public is oblivious.
An ostrach hiding it's head in the sand really isn't safe.

As for miner safety, I have a friend who worked driving a rock truck at one of these sites. The breaks on the well maintained truck he was driving went out and the truck rolled down a 1500 ft embankment. My friend lived, but he'll never be the same. Yeah, safety first is the motto of the coal companies.

Wv Sky said...

First... the one thing that West Virginia has always suffered from is the lack of flat land to build. This has helped to keep us dead last in almost everything good.

Second: We have more hills than we'll ever need until the end of time. Southern WV? What's down there now? Nothing! Would you LIKE something down there to visit..take your family? In southern WV especially, there are thousands of square miles of useless hills. Useless for much habitat besides squirrels and bears and deer etc. Attracting birds is a major step in helping to save mankind because is every bird died tomorrow, human life would end as we know it eventually.

Also... why is it that it's been OK to build prisons (Mt Olive) airports (Yeager) shopping centers (Southridge and others) and businesses on reclaimed coal land, but now all of a sudden it isn't? Almost every new venture in WV in the future is going to require some form of "mountaintop removal" because as I said earlier... we have no choice but to go "up".

B said...

"More hills than we'll ever need."

Thanks, God, for clarifying that. I was wondering what your plan was with all the hills and trees and those annoying streams.

Unfortunately, God, with all due respect, unless you make some pretty big changes in other things, I don't think the additional flat land is going to be an economic boon. We have other flat land now sitting empty or under-utilized in places that would be far more attractive to industrial, commercial or residential developers-- you know in the cities along the rivers, the highways, the railroads and all the other infrastructur-- not to mention plenty of people looking for jobs. If no one can make money using previously developed sites in far more advantageous locations how do you seem a denuded mountaintops in the coalfields helping?

kayakdave said...

Second: We have more hills than we'll ever need until the end of time. Southern WV? What's down there now? Nothing!-----------
And the reason there is nothing down there is because the coal operators want it that way. It’s called a captive workforce. King coal keeps property taxes low and to hell with new schools and books. Lincoln County Schools lawsuit ring a bell?

Wv Sky said...

Bottom line is that these properties today, are being reclaimed into something useful and attractive. That wasn't always the case in the past.

dogman said...

do you have a better idea for the family after family after family that has kept your home warm or kept your lights on? if so i'd love to hear your idea,,,,,

i thought not

B said...

Do you assume the only options are massive environmental destruction and a cessation of mining?

This is a very complex issue and as you rightfully point out there are serious economic issues both in terms of individual livelihoods and the entire economy. Those issues cannot be ignored but they also do not justify any and all actions in the pursuit of "cheap" energy.

There can be no doubt that environmental regulations, not just in mining, but also in power plant emissions and all the steps in all forms of energy production and consumption, increase the costs of energy and would decrease the standard of living.

There is little question that such a decrease would be felt, as is always the case, most severely by the poor.

We do have to weigh those short-term economic costs when determining how to regulate industries which cause long-term environmental damage. However, we cannot ignore the long-term, and in some cases perhaps permanent, consequences of economically beneficial activities.

Too often, opposing sides present options as a choice only between diametrically opposed extremes and refuse to acknowledge the existence of reasnonable potential measures which have costs that are outweighed by the long term benefits.

The bottom line is that this nation in countless ways subsidizes the production and consumption of energy because if the price of energy reflected all of its true costs we would see a drastic decline in our standard of living. Fuel for the economic engine is a must. But, at some point we have an obligation to allow that fuel to become more expensive in order preserve this planet for future generations.

Moreover, the truth is that some of the steps that would make energy more expensive would be ones that decrease the efficiency with which it is produced and a huge part of that decreased efficiency would be the requirement to employ more people to producr the same amount of energy. Coal mining is a prime example because mountaintop removal is efficient largely because of the very few number of people required relative to other forms of mining including smaller scale surface mining. So, the "jobs" argument really holds little water. Eliminating or reducing it would require more people to produce the same amount of coal.

The problem would remain that at a certain point of cost increase the coal could not be profitably exploited due to our national policies of free trade which the wealthy an powerful do not wish to see changed because despitre tyheir professed concern for the working man there is nothing they like better than cheap labor and cheap production.

It's a big picture but there are reasonable solutions that while not perfect are a lot better than what we are doing.

clear eyes said...

B, I see that you have most of the liberal arguments against coal mining covered and that you prefer to increase the cost of everything else as well by eliminating free trade. That shows very little understanding of the market place and how it works.

You don't specify your solution, but it sounds like you're leaning toward risking more union miners' lives trying to get out the hard-to-reach coal and putting tariffs on cheaper, imported coal so that coal buyers (everyone using electricity, steel, etc.) will be forced to pay the higher price. I'm guessing that's why you didn't offer a specific solution, but merely implied it while stating your opposition to the situation as it exists now.

Please explain how mountaintop removal mining causes "long-term environmental damage" which you state as fact. I can see the argument for short-term environmental damage (e.g. muddy streams due to runoff as cover is removed), but I don't see how the final, reclaimed, flatter land is "environmentally damaged." In the long run, it will be forested or put to use just like flatter land in other parts of the state. Are you saying that all flat land is environmentally damaged because it doesn't have hills or that environmentalism is all about asthetics and you prefer hilly views?

B said...

That's a link to the press release announcing the interagency programmtic environmental impact statemt for this region prepared in 2005. Yoiu can find more detailed information detailing the environmental impacts there and countless other places.

Note that the release speaks in terms of "reducing" environmental impacts and makes no pretense (because it would be insane and absurd) of denying their existence. This report is a product of the Bush Administration and the state governments of this region (WV, KY, TN and VA) not wild-eyed tree huggers.

You remove yourself from the realm of credible debaters when you deny the undeniable. Even if you are unaware of or unwilling to understand the science merely having eyes should clue you in that those huge valley fills and high walls left behind after reclamation are "permanent" at least in terms that they will survive until mankind or the entire planet ceases to exist. The literature on the effects on stream chemistry and biology, watershed habitat and drainage is externsive and you might want to have someone explain some it to you before making any more ridiculous comments about environmental consequences.

The issue upon which informed and reasonable minds may differ is what degree of environmental damage should we accept in exchange for equally undeniable benefits of cheaply produced energy.

You tend though to discredit any views you might have on that issue by saying things so incredibly foolish concerning the environment.

clear eyes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
clear eyes said...

B, Since you failed to respond at all to the points about cost and risk of lives, I assume that to you those are secondary to your desire for long-term asthetics. Putting mountains before humans sounds nice until it actually begins hurting humans by taking lives and lowering their standard of living.

When I have a spare day or two, I'll look through the report to see what the professional tree-huggers have to say about the advantages of mountains over flat land. I'm glad that they at least use the term "envionmental impact" rather than "environmental damage" as you did. Impact is a neutral term and can reflect both positive and negative activity while "damage" implies a negative result.

B said...

Again you posit a false dichotomy. The choice is not between saving lives and having mountaintop removal mining. The choice is between having more expensive coal and allowing MTR. Coal could be mined using other methods with less injuries and deaths that occur at MTR sites if we were willing to require expensive meaures to improve safety.

You are simply lying when you say I ignored the issue of cost. I stated quite clearly that there are undeniable benefits to low cost energy and acknowledged those benefits should be considered in determining regulations.

As I clearly stated the issue upon which reasonable minds can differ is how to weight the relative benefits and costs of regulations designed to ameliorate the environmental DAMAGE caused by enrgy production and consumption.

I have no problem with intelligent and informed people who place a higher premium on the benefits of cheap energy and assign a lower value to environmental costs than do I. My problem is merely with ignorant and misinformed (or simply dishonest) people who would make outrageous claims that the environmental damage has not been established.

clear eyes said...

B, leaving aside the fact that more expensive mining means that the coal will be mined elsewhere in a less expensive manner, I still don't understand how you would get this coal. Underground mining is clearly more dangerous and involves more miners, but you state that you won't be risking more lives - just spending more money. Please explain how you propose to spend money in such a way to put fewer lives at risk in underground mining to get this difficult-to-reach coal. I'd be interested in your solution - and then we could deal with the real-world economics of more expensive coal.

B said...

You obviously know very little about mining or the nature of our reserves. IF MTR were eliminated, we would not see a dramtic increase in underground mining in WV. We would see smaller scale "traditional" surface mines which while far from environmentally friendly are less destructive. We would see less coal mined at the current time. (Which leaves MORE coal for the future when both safety technology and emissions control technology will likely have improved.)

As for it being mined elsewhere, not if we passed legislation placing barriers on foreign coal mined more cheaply elsewhere by utilizing slave labor and ignorng environmental damage.

Of course, all that would make coal more scarce and more expensive. Of course making coal more expensive means WV and WVians would derive as much money from less coal, but we would all (nationally) pay a lot more for coal produced energy.

There are obvious negatives to that which as I have repeatedly said cannot be ignored. of course, one long-term benefit from amking coal produced energy more expensive is that it would make other forms of energy production (many of which are less damaging to the environment more competive and draw investment to those sectors (solar, wind, hydro, geo-thermal, etc.)

There is little doubt thought that for the forseeable future more expensive coal would mean a lower standard of living. No one rational disputes that. The debate needs to be what amount of a reduction in the SOL we are willing to bear to preserve the environment-- both "micro-environments" such as those in WV impacted by mining and the "macro-environment."

you can spout simple minded industry propaganda without any real understanding of the issues as long as you want. It's a free country and you have freedom of speech. Just don't be surprised when people find you silly rather than persuasive because you refuse to consider all the factors involved.

clear eyes said...

B, You advocate starting a trade war and increasing the price of everything we buy and you call me silly. I realize that with the unions controlling our education system, there are many like you who don't understand economics. Perhaps there will be enough so that your plan for a higher cost of living and lower standard of living to preserve a view of the mountains will prevail politically (quite often, emotion wins out over logic in politics these days). In your mind, that may make you right, but I understand economics and the principles of freedom and capitalism, so I know it doesn't.

Anonymous said...

In 2002 there were 13,653 coal miners in West Virginia.
In 1950 there were 143,000.
In 1998 there were 18,635.
In 1998 mountain top removal employed 2,300 people, representing less than ½ of 1% of all workers in WV.
McDowell County produces more coal than any other county in the state and has a 37.7% poverty rate, among the worst in the nation.
Tourism pours more money into WV every year than does the coal industry.
And those tourists are not coming here to see the moonscapes.
In 2001 and 2002 McDowell County experienced mountain top removal flooding and damages to the tune of $95 million and was declared a federal disaster area.
In 2001 heavy rains overflowed the coal impoundments at Alpheus Preparation Plant releasing between 5,000 and 10,000 gallons per minute of “black water” into the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River. Had the dams ruptured as happened at Buffalo Creek, hundreds would have died and all aquatic life would have been killed.
On Oct. 11, 2000, an impoundment near Inez KY failed spilling 250 million gallons of slurry and wastewater that killed all aquatic life in more than 70 miles of WV and KY streams. 45 impoundments in WV are considered at high risk for failure and another 32 are considered at moderate risk.
The forests of Appalachia are the most diverse temperate forests in the world. Over 400,000 acres of this terrain have been blasted into moonscape. Between 15 and 25 percent of southern WV’s mountains have already been leveled, burying over 1,000 miles of streams. Mountain top removal has already destroyed over 500 square miles of mountains in WV alone.
So far less than 5% of the level land “provided” by mountain top removal has resulted in any economic development.
WV now has 4 times the amount of flat mountains than it has state parks by acreage.


Man with a plan said...

You guys keep claiming the flat land is not a good thing just because hardly any of it is being used. That's now. It's not being used now because the area is so poor there is no developement. People are moving away and the people who stay can't afford new houses or support commercial development. So, of course hardly any of the reclaimed sites are used.

As for the floods though, that just makes a good reason to use the flat mountaintops bcause water runs downhill and we need to get the people off the valley floors and put them up on the former mountaintops because even though they are alot lower than they used to be they are still higher ground. The only problem is none of them can afford to build new houses and there are no roads or utilities available on hardly any of these sites for even the people who could afford to relocate if develeoped homesites were there.

So, we need to have a program where the state pays to develop these sites for housing and provide no down payment, interest free loans for people to build their homes. I'm sure the coal industry would be happy to pay additional taxes to support such programs and demonstrate both the benefits of shaving the top off mountains and its sincere concern for the welfare of the people. The coal people probably just haven't thought of it.

kayakdave said...

“So, we need to have a program where the state pays…….”
In this case the state is me and I have no desire to pay more corporate welfare.

“I'm sure the coal industry would be happy to pay additional taxes to support such programs and demonstrate both the benefits of shaving the top off mountains and its sincere concern for the welfare of the people.”
Ok you were stoned out of your mind when you wrote this right?

“The coal people probably just haven't thought of it.”
I believe your comment is sarcasm or I would have ripped on you some more.
The bottom line is why should I have to move so that the coal operators can do as they please? That was done to the Indians a century ago. It ain’t going to happen to me. This is my land and I ain’t being pushed off by some fat cat lining his pockets.

Man with a Plan said...

Well, you're just being contrary. And, if you like to kayak just think of the awesome rides you could get when the impoundment dams fail. You should be monitoring the OSM reports on deficient impoundments throughout the area and ready to hit the next one on short notice. Sure, it will be a little dirty, but it will make the Gauley at winter draw down seem tame.

You miss the benefits because because you won't open your eyes.

clydethemagnificent said...

Why is the area poor? Why has it always been poor? By who's standards makes it poor? I'm gonna do this standard style. To wv sky: Jobs?!? You're an idiot. The thought that Coal companies give a fuck about people completely negates their entire history, not to mention completely dismissing all progress made by the labor movement. Foreign oil? Oh! I see. This is the answer we've all been looking for! Coal helps, but isn't gonna shake the oil market. If it was up to me, I'd hang you for your ignorance.
Birds!?! The savior of man! Where would west virginians be without migratory birds!?! Really? You're right. As long as migratory birds have a place to land, then it's ok to completely fuck the families that have lived there for centuries. We EAT birds asshole. To Clear eyes: I'm sure that it's safer to miners. Nuking Iraq would be safer to soldiers. Does your logic stand? .............
To wv sky, again.: For one, it's called heritage. Open a fucking book. last time i checked, prisons don't kill ecosystems and displace communities. You're talking planets and tic-tacs.
To clear eyes: You're correct that this is a very complicated issue. However, the assumption that there is no long term environmental damage is laughable. They dump the shit into valleys! That kills things! Coal is/has always been a dirty business. The sheer act of burning it is bad enough. But destroying mountains to get it, to burn it, is completely counter productive. Basically, It don't make no sense. (It's a double-negative reference.) The smartest way to approach this is by wind power, solar power, and hydro-electric power, which also employ people. Besides, tourism brings far more money into southern west virginia than mining these days. Check your facts. I'm sure you mean well, but your flat wrong. Sorry.

To dogman: Do you really think that your, and my, family that fought to start the union would want their mountains blown to shit? Don't let them fool you. That money could be invested elsewhere, supplying plenty of jobs.

To man with a plan: Please kill yourself. So, you're saying it's ok to force people from their property, by "force" I mean by enforcing age-old mineral rights and/or simply blasting away until people get fed up with rock flying through their house, basically simple intimidation, under the premise that they should move back after the blasting is done to help build some Wal-marts or starbucks to give them some $9.00/hr jobs..... to get other folks making said $9.00/hr to buy $3.00 coffee and some cheap..... toilet paper. Really? Is that the economics people don't know anything about? What's the cost in Culture? Can your calculator add that up? Asshole. Also to you, man with a Dickface. Who put the impoundment dams there? Why are we in this pickle? Who put us here? Where's the money going? Are you richer?

To conclude:
I'd like to think that all of us have more in common than not. I'm sure we all want the same things. However, finding better/easier/cheaper/more efficient ways to mine coal is not the answer. We have to look to renewable rescources. All that coal's gonna go away. Then how many jobs will there be? What will be the jobs to migratory birds ratio? You do the math. email me.

job said...