KENT, Ohio—Creating 310 square miles of mountaintop mine (80,290 hectares) would pollute about 2,300 kilometers of Appalachian streams and cause the loss of carbon sequestration by trees and soils equal to the greenhouse gases produced in a year by 33,600 average U.S. single-family homes, according to a new study that quantifies region-wide extent of the damage the metrics needed to weigh the environmental costs.
The study, published today in the peer-reviewed online journal PLOS ONE and reported by ScienceDaily, is “the first to put an environmental price tag on mountaintop removal coal,” said Brian D. Lutz, assistant professor of biogeochemistry at Kent State, who began the analysis as a postdoctoral research associate at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment last year.
To help fill the data gap, the study’s authors used satellite images and historical county-by-county coal production data to measure the total area of land mined and coal removed in the Central Appalachian coalfields between 1985 and 2005.
They found that cumulative coal production during the 20-year period totaled 1.93 billion tons, or about two years’ worth of current U.S. coal demand. To access the coal, nearly 2,000 square kilometers of land was mined—an area similar in size to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.