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Mountaintop Removal

Coal Formation and Extraction Process
345 million years ago, swampland flourished in West Virginia, which stored massive amounts of organic matter.  Over time, these swamps became buried and highly compressed underneath the eroded material of nearby rising mountains to the east. Eventually, the intense pressure and heat created by the sediment piling onto itself "cooked" the swampland into coal, where  it remains hundreds of feet below the ground, unless otherwise disturbed by mining operations.     
Appalachian coal tends to be high in energy content and low in sulphur, thus its economic appeal for major coal companies.  In West Virginia, there are multiple thin layers of low-sulfur coal seams which are too narrow for traditional mining methods, which calls for mountaintop removal.   
The Mountaintop Removal Process
The hardwoord forests that blanket the mountain are clearcut to prepare the mountain for blasting. The trees are burned or pushed down the mountainside. Topsoil is supposed to be saved for reclamation, but is often pushed into the valley below.
Clear-cutting in the Amazon rainforest as viewed from above by airplane
To dislodge the earth and rock above the coal seams (termed as overburden by the coal industry), ammonium nitrate explosives are detonated in holes drilled into the mountain side. In addition to the soil and rocks loosened by blasting, white silica and chemical laden dust becomes airborn, settling on the surrounding communities.  
The rubble left in the wake of the blasts is removed by 20-story tall dragline excavators and house-sized haul trucks, exposing the mountain's coal seams. Blasting and digging can remove as much as 1,400 feet of elevation from a mountain. 


an example

Haul trucks dump the rubble into the valleys below the mountain to create valley fills. Valley fills have burried over 1,800 miles of headwater streams. The denuded mountain and rubble-filled valleys increase the risk of flooding due to increased run off during rainfall.   


After coal is processed and dumped into sludge impoundments and there is no more coal to dig at an MTR site, the final step in MTR takes place. Barren land is covered with foreign plants and grass, to grow and continue interrupting the once fertile and flourishing ecosystem.    
an example