Death By Coal: MTR Spells Disaster According to Duke University Study

The sound of large machinery thunders atop the mountains as the noise reverberates through the valleys where many families complacently call home.  A few weeks pass by, and the noises persist for several hours each day.  There is a noticeable absence of trees where the machinery operates, as if the mountaintops had succumbed to male-pattern baldness.  The industrial noises subside, and the unfamiliar ear would rejoice.  However, the minute nuisance is quickly replaced with something more noticeable: dynamite.  A series of explosions rumble through the valley, and the mountainsides begin to look less like rolling green hills and more like the rural equivalent of a controlled demolition.

This is a rough description of what it might be like to witness Mountaintop removal mining.  Mountaintop removal mining (MTR) is a type of surface mining that involves literally blowing the tops off of mountains in order to obtain coal from the ground.  This method has been credited as being more efficient, because it puts fewer miners at risk by not requiring as much underground mining.  What MTR lacks in employee risk it makes up for with environmental destruction.

The process itself destroys the natural beauty of mountains across Appalachia and beyond, while continuing to wreak havoc on the local communities.  The blasting causes cracks in the foundations of homes, and can be an unbearable nuisance if it is a frequent occurrence.  Many residents of areas where MTR is prevalent have claimed that it causes an increase in flooding.  A recent study showed that seven percent of Appalachian forests have been cut down and over 1,200 miles of streams buried or polluted as a result of MTR.

However, coal companies maintain that the economic benefits outweigh the potential costs of this surface-mining process.  Until recently, this contention was largely left unchallenged by factual rebuttals.

This month, however, a study conducted by Duke University researchers has, for the first time, compared the environmental costs and energy benefits of MTR.  The results?   To reach the current demand for coal in the US, “an area the size of Washington, D.C. would need to be mined every 81 days.”  The study showed that 310 square miles of mountains need to be mined each year to meet the coal demands.  Doing this would “pollute about 2,300 kilometers of Appalachian streams and cause the loss of carbon sequestration by trees and soils equal to the greenhouse gases produced in a year by 33,600 average US homes….”

These statistics spell disaster.

This is a recent study, and the first of its kind, but it provides a unique and troubling insight into the actual value of MTR.   More scientific data is almost certain to arise in the future, and may cause coal companies to rethink the financial incentives of this destructive mining method.

Put simply and eloquently, the authors of the study administered a dose of empirical truth for coal companies to choke down: “Tremendous environmental capital is being spent to achieve what are only modest energy gains.”

For more on Mountain Top Removal, check out this documentary by Yale Environment 360 in collaboration with MediaStorm:

Leveling Appalachia: The Legacy of Mountaintop Removal Mining

Levelling Appalachia



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1 Comment on Death By Coal: MTR Spells Disaster According to Duke University Study

  1. And now… the PA resurrection of “Old King Coal”
    Starring the RINO and DINO political comedy team of Gene “Back Door” Yaw, and Tim “I’m Your Man” Solobay

    Unconventional natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica are slated for export to China, India, Japan, Great Britain, and Norway. It is NOT going to be used as “bridge fuel to clean energy to make the US energy independent”, and it never was, and can not be effectively regulated. That was a lie. Now, here’s the next big lie. “Clean Coal”. *It now sits on the oxymoron shelf right between “sustainable shale” and “jumbo shrimp”.
    Get ready…. Mountain top removal will be next. They’re already setting the stage by repeating the same lies and empty promises they used to sell the gas industry:
    “Coal is critically important to our effort to reduce dependence on foreign fuels,” Sen. Solobay said. “In addition to being a major employer in Pennsylvania, the industry provides consumers with protection from energy shortages and price spikes.”

    Have the people of PA had enough of the lies yet, and are they outraged enough to get off their couch, come out of their comfort zones, en masse, and stop this destruction of our way of life, our children’s future, our state, and our planet? Or, are we going to continue deluding ourselves while shrugging our shoulders hoping that when the shit hits the fan, maybe it won’t get on you?
    Senators Yaw, Solobay Co-Chair Senate Coal Caucus
    Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) and Sen. Tim Solobay (D-Washington) Tuesday joined Senators from across the Commonwealth in the formation of a Senate ‘Coal Caucus,’ a bipartisan committee emphasizing the continued importance of coal and coal-driven technologies in the Commonwealth.

    “In recent years, Pennsylvania has been fortunate to have an abundance of natural gas located in the Marcellus Shale formation contributing significantly to our local and state economies,” Sen. Yaw said. “Since the industrial revolution, coal has also fueled our economy having created hundreds of thousands of jobs. Collaboratively, we can change the dynamic of coal as an energy resource.”
    “While we have focused our attention on other sources of energy such as gas, wind and solar, we can’t forget that we are sitting on approximately seventy billion tons of coal here in Pennsylvania,” Sen. Yaw added. This Coal Caucus will serve as a champion for increased investment in coal and coal-driven technology.”
    “There are thousands of jobs on the line in southwestern Pennsylvania as market forces threaten a key component of our energy portfolio,” Sen. Solobay said. “I’m honored that my colleagues have trusted me to lead the effort toward a more balanced energy strategy.”

    “Coal is critically important to our effort to reduce dependence on foreign fuels,” Sen. Solobay said. “In addition to being a major employer in Pennsylvania, the industry provides consumers with protection from energy shortages and price spikes.”
    “Clearly we need a unified strategy and the combined voices of lawmakers from across the state to get the attention of the power industry and the federal government,” Sen. Solobay said. “I believe the formation of the Coal Caucus to be an important first step in aiding the development of public policy and the encouragement of new technology that benefits all consumers.”

    The newly formed Coal Caucus will serve as a forum through which legislators and industry representatives can collaborate on the needs of the coal industry, focus on the utilization and consumption of coal to significantly reduce consumer demands on foreign fuels and highlight new coal technologies within the industry.
    Other members include: Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati (R-Jefferson), Senators Jake Corman (R-Centre), John Gordner (R-Columbia), Richard Kasunic (D-Somerset), Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango), Bob Robbins (R-Lehigh), Elder Vogel (R-Beaver), Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland), Don White (R-Indiana), John Wozniak (D-Cambria) and John Yudichak (D-Luzerne).

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