Coal mining is a land intensive engagement that demands deep stripping of the land in order to get to the level where the coal deposits are situated. All the actions taken during the preparation stage and the actual exploitation of the coal deposits prove that coal mining poses a great threat in terms of pollution. In addition, coal mining engagement has also led to a great number of arable lands becoming unproductive not to mention the occurrence deforestation. There are various repercussions to both the land and the surroundings brought about by coal mining that demands the public to be fully aware of its effects in order to ensure they actively engage in safeguarding their land.
There are two ways, in which coal mining is done: the strip mining and the underground mining (Greenpeace.org). These two mining methods have a differentiated impact on the welfare of the productivity of the land and the surroundings. However, it is evident that indeed, coal mining engagement resulted in much pollution emission and in particular, poisonous gasses. In addition, there is the prominent problem of the pollution of the land at hand, a phenomenon that significantly affects its productivity. Another aspect of the impact of the coal mining that people need to consider is the fact that poor methods repercussions affect the land and its surrounding far beyond the decommissioning of the exercise. This means that the side effects of poor mining practices continue to affect the land in question and the surrounding societies for many years to come after the mining exercises has stopped. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge that poor coal mining practices can lead to a devastating long period of time due to its impact on the land thereby posing a threat to people’s welfare.
Types of Coal Mining
This type of mining is also referred to as open cast mining, surface or mountaintop mining (Greenpeace.org). This method of mining entails digging away top soil and the rocks in order to reach the coal buried closely to the surface. If the mining is taking place on a mountain, there is heavy use of explosives to blast away the mountains in attempt to reach the coal deposits. This type of mining is practiced in 40% of the mining exercises around the world. In such a country as Australia, over 80% of coal mining is in the form of an open cast. Mining of this kind is very destructive as it leads to deforestation not to mention how it destroys the topography. However, this method is the most preferred method due to its affordability, use of less labor and more output that underground mining.
This is the method used for the majority of coal mining activities. It is heavily utilized as it seen as less destructive as compared to strip mining. It provides a platform, under which the relevant parties are able to extract huge deposits of coal buried deep in the ground. This is enabled via the use of ‘In room-and-pillar mine’ and ‘longwall mines’. In-room- and pillar mines entail the use of coal column to support the above ground. On the other hand, longwall mines utilize mechanical shearers that strip out the coal (Greenpeace.org). In both methods, there is the use of support structure during the mining engagements that are removed after the exercise.
Impacts of the Forms of Mining
The conspicuous repercussion of strip mining is the severe destruction of the landscapes, the wildlife habitats and the forests to name but a few. This is done as the land in question is cleared to create room for the mining exercise. The aftermath is the occurrence of soil erosion that leads to reduced productivity of agricultural land (NCBI). In addition, the loose soil that is contaminated with the various chemicals that are easily washed away, most of them enter water channels such as rivers and lakes. The water is contaminated endangering both the aquatic life and the communities that rely on these water bodies. This method of mining utilizes explosives and heavy machinery, a phenomenon that leads to the occurrence of noise pollution as well as air pollution. The heavy machines use diesel and emit much carbon into the air. This leads to carbon effect not to mention the acid rainfall that adversely affects the soil fertility and the plants.
The Huge amount of wastes is brought out from the underground to the surface. Some of these wastes once exposed to air become very toxic endangering the lives of any organism that comes into contact with them. Due to the cavities made in the underground, sinks become common, which is an aspect that poses a real threat to the building industry. The underground mining also leads to lowered water tables. The created channels divert the flow of the underground water. A good example Germany where approximately 500 million meters cubic of water is pumped out of the ground through mining exercises. Greenhouse effect is also a common phenomenon in the case of underground mining.
Additional Impact of Coal Mining
Coal Mine Methane
The gas is formed geologically during the formation of coal. During the mining exercises, this gas is released into the atmosphere and has more adverse greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide.
This comes as a result of smoldering coal seams: burning coal storage piles forms a significant pollution to the atmosphere. The pollution has the form of heavy clouds of smoke accompanied by accumulation of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide to name but a few (NCBI). In addition, coal fire also leads to increased ground temperature along with causing contamination of ground water.
Acid Mine Drainage
This is a combination of coal, water, and other unearthed rocks by mining engagements. Also, there is the probability of the presence of heavy metals that all mix to form acid mine drainage. These combined toxins result in intoxicated water that finds its way into rivers and soil around the mining area. The toxins manifest themselves as an orange blanket on water killing aquatic life along with making the water unsafe for human consumption.
Pneumoconiosis commonly known as black lungs is a common killer to the miners who inhale coal dust and carbon dioxide. The statistics indicate that in the USA, about 1200 miners die from this disease (Greenpeace.org). Cardiopulmonary disease, hypertension, and kidney diseases are also very common for residents living near mining grounds and miners (Union of Concerned Scientists). In addition, toxic levels of mercury and selenium are also evident in the food chain of areas where mining is done (Sourcewatch.org). This causes major diseases including cancer to those who consume the contaminated food
Illustrational Examples and Statistics
Strip mining impact on the land is significantly evident mostly in the form of disturbed landscapes and barren land. In the USA, from 1930 to 2000, about 2.4 million hectares have altered via mining undertakings (Greenpeace.org). The majority of this land was previously part of the forest cover. Rehabilitation exercises on the land have yielded very dismal results. because the reason for this is the fact that strip mining has heavily polluted the land. In Montana, tree replantation showed a success rate of between 20-30% (Greenpeace.org). In addition, the case is very similar in China where by 2004, mining has resulted in over 3.2 million hectares destroyed (Greenpeace.org). In terms of pollution, coal mine methane emissions are expected to increase by 20%. In China, about 95% of the coal mining grounds are classified as “methane-outburst prone”.
Abandoned mining presents the greatest challenge. For example, in South Africa, over 6000 of abandoned coal mining sites have flooded, which lead to highly saline acid drainage leaking. In addition, the high level of heavy metals drain into Brugspruit Tribute River and have caused numerous death cases for the aquatic life in Loskop Dam where the river drains (Munnik, 8). Water quality is also significantly undermined by the acid mine drainage. In Ermelo area, there is the case of mine sites draining acidic leaks into the river 5-20 years after these sites were decommissioned (Munnik, 9).
Coal mining has major consequences for both the land and the general surroundings. The physical impact is mostly evident with the heavy distortion of the landscape mostly through stripping mining. The pollution is even at a larger scale when it comes to air pollution. There is a heavy emission of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide not forgetting the dangerous sulphur dioxide. It is also clear that indeed, coal mining exercises also have a devastating effect on the productivity of the land. Coal mining has significantly led to soil erosion, which is one of the key hindrances to land productivity. The effects caused by the mining, for example, deforestation, are also very hard to rehabilitate. This can be seen in the dismal success rates in the USA and China (Greenpeace.org).
Along with that, poor mining exercises are also a major cause of deadly diseases among the human beings living around the mining areas. Heavy metal deposits find their way into the food chain making cancer cases a common phenomenon for people living in the coal mining areas. Over and above, it is clear that the effects caused by coal mining activities continue to affect areas concerned even after the mines are decommissioned.
Despite coal mining being an essential engagement for the welfare of the people in the current economic order, it also yields very severe repercussions to the same people. Both forms of mining lead to pollution that heavily affects the land, the surroundings and the people around these areas. The heavy emissions of poisonous gasses into the atmosphere lead to carbon effect raising the temperatures around the world from their normal levels. In addition, the unearthed heavy metals are exposed to the surface that combines with air and water forming toxic sludge, which contaminates the water bodies and land endangering both human beings and other organisms’ health. These examples lead to a clear conclusion: poor coal mining practices form a serious threat to people’s health and lives. In addition, they pose a threat of making land unproductive thereby threatening the sustainability of life around the mining areas.
Therefore, it is clear that serious measures have to be formulated, enacted and followed up in the line of making coal mining a more environment-friendly activity. There is the need to sensitize people around the mining areas on what to look out for a better protection of their land. Along with that, they need to learn about the possible risks involved in order to better protect themselves. To ensure that coal mining is environmentally conscious, there is the need for the mining players, the surrounding community, environmental agencies and the concerned central government to cooperate. People need to consider and give reasonable attention to the fact that poor coal mining exercises pose a threat to humanity.