This 360 degree panorama shows a typical coal surface mine in the southern coalfields of West Virginia. This mine is located in Lincoln and Mingo Counties, and represents a view of "mining in progress." Several years after mining is completed, trees are reintroduced. Until the trees take over completely, the grassy meadows create an oasis for a variety of wildlife-- deer, fox, bobcat, bears, and predatory birds such as hawks and bald eagles. Some of the fossil specimens exhibited in Plant Fossils of West Virginia came from this active mine.
The coal seams lay in flat beds ranging from 2- ft. to 7- ft. in thickness. The coals mined here are the 5-Block and the 5-Block "Rider" seams, dating back about 303 million years, (M. Pennsylvanian Age, Westphalian C) separated by rock layers which are drilled and blasted to carefully expose the coal. There are many places in the coalfields where the coal is too thin to mine, or doesn't exist at all. Only in special circumstances where there exists the right combination of sufficient coal thickness and quality, proximity to suitable transportation facilities, and relatively thin rock covering (overburden) are the coals economically minable by this method of mining.
The coal in the ground at this mine is owned by the railroad. However almost all the surface of the land is owned by many different individual private landowners who have signed agreements with the mining company in return for a royalty income from the coal mined. A small army of engineers, land agents, draftsmen, geologists, and environmental specialists are needed to explore, lease, design, permit, and mine projects like these.
Mining plans are carefully engineered so that reclamation of the land proceeds closely behind the active advancing mining pits. Rock lined drainways and collection ponds ensure that erosion is kept to a minimum and water is pure before it enters nearby streams.
In this part of West Virginia, where steep ridges and narrow hollows make it difficult to raise cattle and plant crops or to even find a place level enough to set a trailer on, most residents have been forced to live along narrow strips of bottomland, prone to flooding. During mine reclamation it is possible to shape the land flatter than it was, enabling landowners to have pastures, build ponds, and have level home sites up high away from the floodplain. However, because of environmental pressure to prohibit coal miners and landowners from modifying the "approximate original contours" of their lands, it is now required to be put back mostly as steep hillside.
This surface mine employed about 80 miners, almost all of whom live locally, and has contributed more than $150 million to the State and local economy in the 3 years it has been in operation. Miners typically work close to home, living in close-knit families and social groups, but with few prospects for other jobs. Fortunately, even with just a high school diploma, or less, coal miners can earn $50,000 or more per year operating the large trucks, loaders, and dozers that excavate the coal and then carefully reclaim the landscape-- twice the average wage in the state.
There are many more years of coal reserves remaining here, unfortunately this mine, and others like it, have recently been closed down due to economic conditions and environmental activism making it unprofitable to operate any longer.
Other panorama scenes:
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