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Rural Blog: Appalachian surface mining requiring more land for less coal, new study shows

Surface mining in Central Appalachia needs more land to produce less coal than in years past, as illustrated a study from Duke University featuring a new interactive mapping tool by SkyTruth. The apparent reason is that available coal seams are getting thinner as thicker ones are mined out; mines can move as much as 20 tons of rock and dirt to get a ton of coal.

Satellite images from 1985 to 2015 show spread of surface mining across Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia (Wise County, Virginia, is at lower right). Most, but not all, disturbed areas are coal mines. (Map by Christian Thomas, SkyTruth)

“Researchers estimate that between 1985 and 2015, an average of 21,000 acres was converted to bare earth and rubble in central Appalachia each year — an area about half the size of Washington, D.C.,” says a report on the study. (Federal law requires the mined area to be reclaimed.) “This analysis places the total estimate since the 1970s at about 1.5 million acres. “That is an area 18 percent larger than the state of Delaware, and only 3 percent smaller than Everglades National Park,” said first author Andrew Pericak, who conducted the research in the lab of biology professor Emily Bernhardt at Duke. Read more aat www.sciencedaily.com.

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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