Environmental Consequences Of Coal Mining In The Black Mesa Complex

1340 words - 6 pages

Introduction
Coal mining in the United States is a major industry. In 2012, the coal mining industry employed nearly 90,000 people [1]. The Black Mesa Complex in Northern Arizona consists of two seperate coal mines, the Kayenta mine and the Black Mesa coal mines. Both mines are owned and operated by Peabody Western Coal Company (PWCC). The mines are located 10 miles southwest of Kayenta, AZ. The Kayenta mine is 40,000 acres (62.5 square miles), employs 430 workers [2], and is the 27th largest mine in the United States, producing nearly 7.5 million short tons of coal per year [1]. The Black Mesa mine is located a few miles to the west of the Kayenta Mine. Operations at the Black Mesa coal mine haulted in 2005 when a court order shut down the powerplant that the coal from the mine fed. While the mine was active it produced 5 million tons of coal per year [3] and employed 360 workers [4].
Although coal mining is important to local and global economies, there are many environmental impacts of both the mining and use of coal that must be considered. Actions can be taken to mitigate these environmental impacts but it is up to scientists to identify these potential problems and put plans into action before it is too late.
Environmental Setting and Vegetation
Peabody Western Coal Company’s Kayenta coal mine is located on the northeastern portion of Black Mesa (a mountainous mesa on the Colorado Plateau in Northern Arizona). Elevations range from 6,600’ to 7,200’. Precipitation ranges from 7” to (“ per year with temperatures from -15oF to 100oF. The area is characterized by gentle to steep rolling hills dissected by deep valleys. The geology is dominated by scoreia, interbedded sandstones, and shale. Topsoil is very deep in the valley bottoms and shallow on the slopes [5].
There are four native plant communiteis in the Black Mesa Complex: pinon/juniper woodland, sagebrush shrub, saltbush shrubland, and greasewood shrubland. Pinon/Juniper woodland is the dominant community, occupying about 70% of unmined land with a canopy cover of around 15%. They are found at an elevation range of 6300’ to 7200’. Pinon is more dominant at higher elevations where Junipers are more so at lower elevations. Sagebrush shrub is the next dominant community, covering about 35% of unmined land. This community is found in the flat valley bottoms at elevations up to 7000’ with a vegetation coverage from 8% to 17%. Saltbush and greasewood shrublands occupy small areas on the margins of terraces associated with tertiary drainage [6].
Elevation is highest in the northeast corner of the Black Mesa Complex (7,200’) and decreases to the southwest (6,100’). Western and southern areas at lower elevations have a higher cover of sagebrush as well as saltbush and greasewoods due to more devoloped drainages at the lower elevations. Northern and eastern areas have higher coverages of pinon/juniper woodland [6].
Reclaimed Areas
3-60 in [6]
Wildlife
Twenty-six different mammals were...

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