I have stumbled across a reason for strip mining, why companies thought it was a reasonable way to mine. Robert F. Kennedy Jr wrote an article on his father’s fight against strip mining, and it gives a bit of history on the situation. It starts with unions. In the sixties, there “were 114,000 unionized mine workers in West Virginia digging coal from tunnels and supporting the families and communities of Appalachia. Today, there are less than 11,000 miners in West Virginia taking the same amount of coal and only a fraction of them are unionized because the strip industry isn’t.” Strip mining requires heavy machinery that can do the work of many men. With more machines, fewer workers – union workers – were needed to mine the land. Non-union labor is cheaper, and having fewer workers to pay is cheaper, and companies certainly like a profit.
The initial reason for this practice to be thought up is explained as well: “The mining industry debuted strip mining in the 1940s in the Western States, to extract coal seams that lay a few feet below the surface and therefore inaccessible through traditional tunnel mining. To extract the wealth, all you needed was a bulldozer.” They were only thinking of immediate return, with no eye towards the future of the land.
Well, here’s the future:
The most shocking statistic I have read is from the same site. Strip miners set off 3,000 pounds of dynamite A DAY in West Virginia. Added up, it is the size of the Hiroshima bomb each week. The US Department of Energy estimates that 70,000 people died from the initial blast (Source). Buildings were destroyed; everything was destroyed. If that’s how much one bomb did, and to humans and buildings, imagine the effects of one of those each week on the trees and natural elements.
Photo credit: Kent Kessinger