Coal Mining

The negative aspects of mining operations can lead to confrontations among citizen groups, governmental agencies, and the mining industry. The conflicts tend to be centered on the following issues [1]:

• Destruction of the landscape;

• Degradation of the visual environment;

• Disturbance of surface water and groundwater;

• Destruction of agricultural and forest lands;

• Damage to recreational lands;

• Noise pollution;

• Sedimentation and erosion;

• Land subsidence;

• Vibration from blasting.

These issues, along with past operating procedures—unsafe working conditions leading to injuries, deaths, and high incidences of respiratory diseases; use of child labor; scarred landscapes; poor miner living conditions; contentious and sometimes extremely violent labor relations—resulted in coal mining being viewed negatively; consequently, a major effort has gone into addressing these issues so that today coal mining is a highly regulated industry that has seen a number of significant changes in the approach to mining and resource development along with improving miner safety. These developments include:

• Environmental impact assessment and public inquiries;

• Conditions for mining permit approval;

• Resource management and land-use planning;

• Land reclamation and rehabilitation;

• Regulations specifically addressing miner safety and training.

Coal mining falls into two categories: underground mining and surface mining. Surface mining is used when the coal seam to be mined lies near the surface, typically less than 200 feet from the surface. Each mining technique has its own set of technical and economic advantages and disadvantages, and each mining technique has its own set of health and environmental impacts. In 2002, nearly 370 million short tons of coal were mined by underground methods, while more than 724 million short tons of coal were removed by surface mining [2].

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