Tuesday, October 25, 2011

BLM and Coal Mining by Douglas Powers

Warner Pacific College
October 24, 2011
            The United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is a government agency that regulates the management of public land throughout the United States. The total area of this land comes out to be about 253 million acres which is approximately 1/8 of the total area of the United States ("Bureau of land," ). The majority of public land is in the western portion of the United States and an even larger portion can be found in Alaska. In addition to the public land that the BLM oversees they are also in charge of 700 million acres of subsurface mineral real estate underlying federal and private lands ("Bureau of land," ).  The BLM has a myriad of responsibilities pertaining to rules or regulations that oversee recreational activities such as camping, hunting, fishing, driving vehicles off-road, boating, hiking, shooting, and even hang-gliding. Aside from recreational activities, the land that the BLM issues for industrial uses is also governed by the BLM. The major industries that apply for these land grants are primarily mining and lumber companies ("Bureau of land," ).
          As stated earlier the BLM issues land to mining and timber companies to fuel America’s manufacturing and energy industries. I have a few complaints about the timber industry but my major complaint is with America’s mining companies and their generally accepted practices. To begin, mining itself has a devastating impact on the ecosystem around mines and also on the human population drawing water from the water table feeding the mine. When they begin digging the mine, high concentrations of methane gas, the most common from of green house gas, is released into the atmosphere ("Environmental impacts of," 2011). Methane is a natural byproduct of the formation of coal ("Environmental impacts of,"). In the United States 67% of the mining done is referred to as strip mining, cut mining, or pit mining; literally, it is a giant pit in the ground and coal is extracted via heavy equipment ("Environmental impacts of," ). This allows for more coal to be recovered then conventional underground mining but also has a greater impact on the environment.
A major byproduct of coal is pyrite (iron sulfide) or fool’s gold. This composition is acidic in nature and when rain falls the rain waters wash over the pyrite and take their acidic qualities to nearby streams or seep into the ground and contaminate the water table. This process is referred to as acid mine drainage (AMD) and is a problem coal mining operations are trying to solve but are having little success ("Environmental impacts of," ).
Another problem that coal mines create but do not deal is overburden or waste rock. This material is the worthless rock and sediment that sit atop the precious coal and typically is left in mountain sized mounds around the mine. This may not seem like a major problem however these piles are extremely unstable and continuously shift and have frequent land slides. In addition to the danger posed to humans, these waste piles attract and soak up heat like a sponge and as a result create very difficult living conditions for the indigenous plant species. However, the benefit of this uneconomical pile is that mining companies can use this material to restock mines and return the landscape to a shade of what it once was.
            To summarize, the BLM allows the mining industry to establish mining operations all over the United States for pennies. The Mining Act of 1872 allows companies to buy an acre of land for five dollars. This allows mining companies to buy massive tracts of land and devastate the landscape which will take decades to recover.

1)  Bureau of land management. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en.html

2)  Environmental impacts of coal power:. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c02c.html

3)  Environmental impacts of coal power:. (2011, may 25). Retrieved from http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=environment_Where Greenhouse Gases Come From

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