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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Protecting the Plateau

What do you do when the place you love lies in the wake of devastation?

My environmental ethics have crossed paths with Mountaintop Removal, or stated more simply, this mining practice is encroaching on home soil.

Open Fork MTR site (Photos courtesy of Antrim Caskey and Southwings)

In recent months the coal company, Frasure Creek Mining, a subsidiary of Trinity Coal which is owned by India based Essar Group, has been expanding Mountaintop Removal operations into the central portion of Fayette County, WV (Home of the New River Gorge). Since 2004, four permits have been approved and five new surface mining permits are pending approval. The company has continued to prospect several coal seams into central Fayette County. I oppose this expansion. I have reviewed many different sources of information relating to MTR and feel that the preponderance of evidence suggests that the short term and long term costs associated with MTR outweigh the benefitsLearn more here.

Produced by Grist.org - This series of photographs from NASA's Landsat 5 satellite, taken over 26 years from 1984 to 2010, shows the toll mountaintop-removal mining takes on a landscape. The expansion of the Hobet mine is very similar to what is already happening with the Frasure Creek mining complex in central Fayette County.

Recent Studies:
Much has been written about the negative impacts of MTR on a wide range of ecosystems. In addition to burying miles of streams and associated habitat, aquatic life and wildlife, the impacts on downstream water users is also negative.
  1. On September 28th of 2010, the independent Science Advisory Board of the EPA released a review of the EPA’s research into the water quality impacts of valley fills associated with MTR. Their findings support the EPA’s research and agree with their conclusion that valley fills are associated with conditions in downstream waters that threaten stream life. Their draft stated “A growing body of scientific literature, including previous and new studies performed by EPA, show significant damage to local streams that are polluted with the mining runoff from mountaintop removal.” (U.S. EPA. A Field-Based Aquatic Life Benchmark for Conductivity in Central Appalachian Streams (External Review Draft). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-10/023A, 2010.) 
  2. An article in the January 8th 2010 edition of Science Magazine titled “Mountaintop Mining Consequences” summarized it this way: “Mining permits are being issued despite the preponderance of scientific evidence that impacts are pervasive and irreversible and that mitigation cannot compensate for the losses.” (M. A. Palmer, E. S. Bernhardt, W. H. Schlesinger, K. N. Eshleman, E. Foufoula-Georgiou, M. S. Hendryx, A. D. Lemly, G. E. Likens, O. L. Loucks, M. E. Power, P. S. White and P. R. Wilcock. 2010. Mountaintop Mining Consequences. Science Vol. 327 no. 5962 pp. 148-149.) 
  3. Not only is mountaintop removal irreversible, MTR operations directly affect residents living near and around the site. A recently published study by Hendryx and Hitt released in the 2010 October edition of EcoHealth, demonstrated that poor stream health (biological integrity) is more likely to occur in areas of high coal production and is inversely related to the risk of cancer in nearby residents. The equation is simple, the less abundant a stream is with life (biological integrity score), the higher the rates of breast, respiratory, digestive, and urinary cancers in that area. In addition, their study also found that cancer clusters correspond to areas of high coal mining intensity. (Hitt, Nathaniel and Hendryx, Michael. 2010. Ecological integrity of streams related to human cancer mortality rates. EcoHealth 7, 91-104, 2010.) Learn more here.

MTR operations looming in the background less than 4.5 miles from the Oak Hill HS (Photos courtesy of Antrim Caskey and Southwings)

Like clockwork, you can feel and hear the blast daily. Coal Companies, in West Virginia alone, detonate 3.5 million pounds of explosives per day. Combustion products from the ammonium nitrate and fuel oil explosives end up in the air and the water. The silicate-based rock is blasted into very fine shards of what-is-essentially glass. The glass-like dust binds with the aerosolized droplets of the ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel. The resulting particulate is of a size and density that municipal water supplies can’t filter, and when mixed with chlorine during the water treatment process creates chloramine gas. Chloramine gas is highly poisonous and has been identified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Depending on prevailing winds and atmospheric conditions (temperature, air pressure, water vapor) blasting from surface mining operations can affect surface water supplies and residents on a regional or national scale. This is just the tip of the ice-burg.

So with 4 approved and 5 more permits coming down the pipeline, what will be the fate of the Plateau and the place I call home?

Learn even more about Moutaintop Removal at ILoveMountains.org