West Virginia Geology:
A Geologic Overview of Mountaintop Removal Mining
Introduction (The full article is available below in .PDF format.)
in West Virginia
The environmental, economic, and societal impacts of the surface mining practice in West
Virginia termed mountaintop removal mining (MTRM) have attracted considerable attention
recently. MTRM mining operations are large areal surface mines that involve the systematic
removal of rock layers to uncover coal beds so that they can be mined starting from the top of
mountain ridges and proceeding down to a level where the economics are no longer favorable.
The practice utilizes large earth moving equipment such as the dragline and dozer, as shown in the
picture below. Rock layers broken up during the mining process take up more volume
than the original undisturbed layers; this excess material is placed in the steep heads of streams
along the mountainside in areas called valley fills. As mining is completed, the remainder of the
material is used to return the ridge tops to the approximate original contour.
West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey coal geologists were asked to appear
before the Economic Committee of the Governor's Task Force on Mountaintop Removal and
Related Mining Methods on October 26, 1998. The report summarizing the information
presented to the Committee can be accessed below.
Full Report, A Geologic Overview of Mountaintop Removal Mining in West Virginia (in .PDF format, 743 KB)
Related material on mountaintop mining activity, Remote Sensing Analysis of Mountaintop
Mining Activity Using Landcover Classification and Change Detection Techniques, is available at the West Virginia Division
of Environmental Protection Web site.
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Page last revised: July 8, 2004