Kentucky coal

Kentucky is fleetingly in the news today because of the US Presidential primaries, but I wish there was more attention being paid to the extraordinarily destructive coal mining that has been going on in that state day after day. There is a lot of debate about how to reduce coal consumption and reduce the greenhouse impacts of coal usage, but whatever options we adopt in regards to that, we know enough now to avoid destroying the environment just getting it out of the ground in the first place. I was amazed to read of the mining practices currently used in Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains. It’s the sort of mining process one associates with a very poor third world country, not the USA.

In a process known as mountaintop removal an upland moonscape is being created, which is incapable of regenerating trees. As far as the eye can see, the land is grey and pockmarked with huge black lakes, filled with toxic coal slurry.

The act of destroying a million-year-old mountain has several distinct stages. First it is earmarked for removal and the hardwood forest cover, containing over 500 species of tree per acre in this region, is bulldozed away. The trees are typically burnt rather than logged, because mining companies are not in the lumber business. Then topsoil is scraped away and high explosives laid in the sandstone. Thousands of blasts go off across the region every day, blowing up what the mining industry calls “overburden”.

The rubble is then tipped into the valleys – more than 7,000 have already been filled – and more than 700 miles of rivers and streams have disappeared under rubble and thousands more soiled with toxic waste.

Tens of thousands of acres of mountain have been transformed in this way in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.

Read the full story here.

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  1. I read about this – or a very similar site – a couple of years ago, in National Geographic of all magazines. It is quite phenomenal the sheer amount of coal that the USA uses every day to generate electricity.

    And to imagine how some simple efficiencies (and alternative technologies) could reduce both energy use and the amount of coal required for it.

  2. When I was a child my family would travel
    Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born
    And there’s a backwards old town that’s often remembered
    So many times that my memories are worn.

    And daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
    Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
    Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
    Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away

    Well, sometimes we’d travel right down the Green River
    To the abandoned old prison down by Adrie Hill
    Where the air smelled like snakes and we’d shoot with our pistols
    But empty pop bottles was all we would kill.

    Repeat Chorus:

    Then the coal company came with the world’s largest shovel
    And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
    Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
    Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.

    Repeat Chorus:

    When I die let my ashes float down the Green River
    Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam
    I’ll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waitin’
    Just five miles away from wherever I am.

    Repeat Chorus:

    Paradise – John Prine ~ 1968

  3. Gee, that’s irresponsible. They could at least make good use of the trees and topsoil in the process, and fill in the holes.

    When they’re finished, they’ll probably build houses on top of the quagmires, and then they’ll fall in.

    Mountains trap rain and funnel it into streams and rivers. No traps and no funnels equals no catchment areas. I guess they don’t care if there’s nothing to drink except toxic sludge.

    According to the link, George Bush is trying to make up the shortfall of oil using coal. Clinton and Obama are not opposing it either.

    No wonder Bush won’t get out of Iraq. In the near future, I think we’re going to see an even bigger bunfight over fossil fuels.

    If we don’t mine Australian coal for export, others (likely the Chinese) will come and take it for free – unless all countries quickly adopt cleaner alternatives.


    I’ve found that National Geographic covers a lot of environmental and social issues – nothing strange about that.

  4. Why would we be surprised at the attitude of the US in respect to mining coal in Kentucky? The US has been in many countries, mined, drilled for oil and left behind lethal pollution,and never forced to clean up after themselves. Ask the people in the Phillipines or Africa, don’t forget Indonesia & the people in Vietnam! The US always refuses to even accept responsibility for destructive pollution or lethal ‘gifts’ to the inhabitants.
    Australia doesn’t have a clean slate either. What about our efforts in Indonesia, East Timor,Papua, Fiji etc.
    Australia was involved in the rape of Indonesia, the murders of perhaps 3 million people,and the destruction of the country & its people. Our Intelligence services were aware of what was happening, and went along with it all -with the US,whose intelligence CIA was providing names of those to be killed!
    No, we don’t have the right to take the high moral ground!Had a look at the obscenities created by mining in this country lately? There’s probably going to be lots more, once the indigenous people are forced off their lands! Wasn’t that the main idea of the intervention? If not, why did Howard do nothing for about 11 years? How many new mining applications are waiting to be given the OK?

  5. Pingback: Mountains of Coal

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