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Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

A radical form of coal mining, mountaintop removal is a surface mining technique for extracting coal seams from a mountain summit.

The first stage is vegetation removal, whereby all topsoil and vegetation, including trees, are disposed of in nearby valleys. The overburden dumped here is known as valley fill.

Key fact: Valley fills from mountaintop removal have buried over 2,000 miles of headwater streams

The next stage is blasting, which involves using explosives to flatten the mountaintops. Coal mining companies typically remove between 600 and 1,000 feet from the mountaintop or ridgeline.

After blasting comes digging. This requires heavy equipment, namely draglines, to remove massive amounts of overburden from above the coal seams.

The coal is then processed. This involves washing it with water and chemicals, producing coal slurry, a waste fluid containing coal dust, water, and clay. Coal slurry also contains toxic chemicals, most notably arsenic, mercury, lead, and chromium.

Key fact: Mountaintop removal sites encompass over one million acres

The final stage is reclamation, though the efforts are minimal, with only 3% of reclaimed sites used for economic development.

Benefits

  • Cheaper than other mining methods

  • More efficient by requiring less manpower

  • Fulfils energy demands

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