Chapter 1: Extraction
Prior to mountaintop removal mining operations, the land above the coal seams is deforested and the topsoil removed. The mining process uses explosives to remove the layers of rock and soil above the coal seam. This “overburden” is either used in the reshaping of the ridge or is dumped into an adjacent valley, becoming “valley fill.” Over 1,200 miles of biologically crucial Appalachian headwaters and streams lie under valley fill.
A dragline bucket excavator is used to extract “spoils,” the material immediately surrounding the coal. The dragline is one of the largest mobile machines ever built, weighing between 2,000 and 13,000 tons and costing between $50 and 100 million dollars. Most draglines used in surface mining require a direct high-voltage connection, consuming up to 6 Megawatts of power during normal digging operations.
This process is repeated to extract the coal existing in multiple geologically stratified seams. Large dump trucks remove the extracted coal, which is washed with water and chemicals in preparation for transport to its distribution point.
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