PagesImage — The preference to do one over the other is dictated by geology and economics. Coal that is suitable for surface mining generally cannot be mined economically by underground methods. Typically this is because the seams are not thick enough to use underground equipment and often the rock strata are not stable enough to prevent roof falls which

jeopardize miner safety.

Coal within 300-800 feet of the surface can be mined safer, faster, with less waste, and lower cost using surface mining methods. It’s just that simple.

West Virginia’s coal production is approximately 58% underground mining and 42% surface mining. Surface mining can take three forms in West Virginia:

(1) Contour mining

(2) Area mining, and

(3) Mountaintop mining.

All surface mining in WV today is generally referred to as “mountaintop mining.”

It is interesting to note that reduced surface mining will in fact

reduce underground mining. Coal companies utilize the roads, utilities, coal handling infrastructure, railways, and lower cost economics of surface mining to get to the more expensive underground coal.

Additionally, the necessity to blend surface coal with underground coal allows electric utilities to create coal with specific qualities that produce more complete combustion with electricity generation. This reduces air pollutants and carbon dioxide emissions as power plant efficiency increases..

Mountaintop mining is the most efficient and environmentally responsible type of surface mining over the long term.



“Contour mining,” more prominent in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, takes place around a ridge top in which a two or three hundred foot strip of earth and rock are removed to expose the outer reaches of a coal seam.

Contour mining leaves large blocks of coal in the ground under the ridge tops. This is inefficient and wasteful of coal resources.

As equipment became larger and more powerful in the 1990’s, mountaintop mining enabled the industry to become more productive and efficient by removing all the coal available.

The inefficiency of “contour mining” kept open the possibility of re-entering the environment later, perhaps a second or third time, damaging any restoration that had been completed.

“Mountaintop mining” would have precluded further environmental damage;

thus allowing restoration to be greatly more sustainable and producing more

energy that our country desperately needs.


“Area Mining” occurs in more rolling topography such as northern West Virginia, southern Ohio or midwest and western states to reach coal seams closer to the surface. This topography allows for easier restoration than difficult steep slope areas but the mining process requires the same equipment and methods as steep slope mountaintop mining. Post mining land use in these areas often include agricultural, recreational, and commercial site developments.

The Mylan baseball and soccer parks, the FBI center, Pete Dye Golf Club, and Bridgeport shopping malls are examples in the Morgantown/Clarksburg corridors.

These are beautifully restored areas that offer high economic and quality of life values.

Although the mining and environmental issues are the same in area mining,

this mining is not demonized in the same manner as in southern West Virginia/ eastern Kentucky..

“Flattening mountains” is merely a provocative term. It’s against the law and

has no proof in fact. Leveling land for public or commercial use is merely

accepted practice and common sense. Is mountaintop mining destroying all

of our mountains? Absolutely not! The footprint is very small. That impression appears to be confirmed by information provided by the West Virginia Coal Association that says in 22 of the state’s 55 counties the acreage permitted for such mining is less that 1 percent; in four other counties, it is in the 1 to 3 percent range and there are three over that with Boone the largest at 5.5 percent. The 22 remaining counties have no permits for mountaintop mining. Furthermore, where restoration is 20 years or older, evidence of mining is virtually gone except to the trained expert eye.

Coal was discovered in Boone county in 1742. It is amazing that it is today

the highest coal producing county…producing over 33 million tons annually,

21 million tons by surface mining. BooneCounty is 503 square miles of a state that has 24,181 square miles. The 5.5 percentage of permitted acreage has relatively little mining in progress compared to acres and acres of restored land. It is today one of our most beautiful and rugged areas. In no way has mountaintop mining destroyed this land. It is useful, dynamic, and resourceful and will be for years to come. Economically it has 102 mines, underground and surface. It has a population of 25,535, estimated direct wages of $258,449,000, and severance tax receipts of $4,559,930. Take away mountaintop mining and it will simply revert to another Appalachian tragedy as would all of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.



Mountaintop mining does not cover up miles and miles of streams. Tragically, the mountaintop mining process has been deceptively over simplified and wrongfully characterized as blowing off the tops of mountains and covering up streams. It has been repeated over and over and over by reporters and coal opponents. This repetition will never replace the true facts. Its use is designed to instill fear and create negativity to a critical mining process, an industry and citizenry. But yet it goes on and on.

Anyone not spending considerable time around the mining areas would think the “greedy coal operators” are loping off all mountains and covering all fishing and navigable streams in the state.

This is not reality.

It is simply an inflammatory and distorted attack against the coal industry. Mountaintop mining is primarily a central Appalachian technique in southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and western Virginia.

Mountaintop mining is legally characterized as surface mining that flows continuously from one side of a mountain ridge to the other. It does not “remove” the mountain! It does not “flatten” the mountains!

These are simply outrageous characterizations by anti-mining groups for sensationalizing their attacks on the coal industry.

In fact, unless a permit variance is granted by regulators for higher and better post mining land use, the mined area must, by law, be restored to “approximate original contour” and revegetated.

Recent law changes and new technology allow the planting of millions of hardwood seedlings on restored lands.

Also, new permits allow mountaintop mines to correct old damage and mistakes of the past on mine lands.

Mining coal utilizing surface methods is designed to maximize the economic extraction while minimizing the environmental effects to water resources, wildlife, insects and aquatic life, and overall scenic environment.

The restoration develops beautifully over time. Unfortunately, most never get to view these areas as mining areas still under bond are off limits for public safety reasons.

Only mining in progress is available to the public through pictures and other visual media by coal’s opponents.

Additionally, many counties are petitioning for mined land to be left in level conditions more readily available for commercial post mine use. Large, prime building sites are very scarce in central Appalachian regions which make economic diversity all the more difficult.