Mountaintop Removal



Photo of a mountaintop removal site

Photo courtesy Kent Kissinger and Southwings

Mountaintop removal (MTR) begins with the clearing of trees in some of the most unique forests in the world. Dynamite is planted and rock and topsoil are loosened. This rubble is then dumped down the side of the mountain and fills the valley below, often filling in flood plains and creek beds.

MTR, according to the U.S. Department of Interior Office of Surface Mining, is a method of surface coal mining where land is not returned to its original contour to achieve specific land use*.

Historically, there are several different types of coal mining that include both underground and above ground mining. A lot of these types are currently used to harvest the coal, which is used to power homes across America.

The public uses 70 percent more electricity than it did 20 years ago, according to journalist Erik Reece*. To keep up with energy demand, coal-mining companies use massive machinery to carry out mountaintop removal, which allows them to extract coal at a rate of 50 tons per second. This is a drastically increased amount of coal that underground mining could extract in this time*.

Currently, over 60 percent of the nation's coal is surface mined, or mined by methods of MTR. In the last two decades, nearly 500 mountaintops have been removed for mining across the Appalachian Mountain region.

Mountaintop Removal process chart

To assist in reading the small type within the illustration, it will be repeated below:

1) Trees are clear-cut and explosives are used to loosen the rock and topsoil.

2) Huge shovels dig into the topsoil and trucks haul it away.

3) A dragline digs into the rock to expose the coal.

4) The dragline and 250-ton trucks dump the topsoil and rock into areas called valley fills.

5) Coal companies are supposed to reclaim land, but native trees have trouble growing on disturbed topsoil*.