Daily Picture Show

Removing Mountains

Mountains really can be moved. Or removed, at least. In one type of surface mining, entire mountaintops are razed to extract coal, and the byproducts are dumped into nearby water sources. This method is particularly associated with the Appalachian mining industry, and has had a devastating impact on mountainous ecosystems. Last week, however, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its plan to review coal miners' permits, which could potentially reduce the practice. Read the related NPR story here.

  • Sludge or "slurry" is the liquid byproduct from the coal cleaning process. It is stored in underground injections and above-ground massive ponds, like the one seen here.
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    Sludge or "slurry" is the liquid byproduct from the coal cleaning process. It is stored in underground injections and above-ground massive ponds, like the one seen here.
  • The Department of Environmental Protection is West Virginia's state-level EPA. Here, two DEP officials approve a permit request for an extension on a current mountaintop removal site.
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    The Department of Environmental Protection is West Virginia's state-level EPA. Here, two DEP officials approve a permit request for an extension on a current mountaintop removal site.
  • The mountaintop removal site on Kayford Mountain near Charleston, W. Va. was nicknamed "Hell's Gate" by local resident and anti-mountaintop removal activist Larry Gibson.
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    The mountaintop removal site on Kayford Mountain near Charleston, W. Va. was nicknamed "Hell's Gate" by local resident and anti-mountaintop removal activist Larry Gibson.
  • Larry Gibson sits in this chair every day to watch his back yard give way to coal extraction.
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    Larry Gibson sits in this chair every day to watch his back yard give way to coal extraction.
  • Two 19-year-olds in Whitesville, W. Va., have just started their careers working in underground mines.
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    Two 19-year-olds in Whitesville, W. Va., have just started their careers working in underground mines.
  • Mountaintop removal requires some of the largest industrial equipment produced in the world, such as this typical dump truck used on site.
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    Mountaintop removal requires some of the largest industrial equipment produced in the world, such as this typical dump truck used on site.
  • Compared with the amount of earth that must be moved to reach it, there is relatively very little coal. Here, the coal seams are clearly visible.
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    Compared with the amount of earth that must be moved to reach it, there is relatively very little coal. Here, the coal seams are clearly visible.
  • Kudzu, an invasive plant, dramatically defines much of the vegetation in parts of Appalachia.
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    Kudzu, an invasive plant, dramatically defines much of the vegetation in parts of Appalachia.
  • A coal-fired power plant along the Ohio River at night. Much of the coal being extracted in Appalachia ends up in these plants that dot the Southern Ohio landscape.
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    A coal-fired power plant along the Ohio River at night. Much of the coal being extracted in Appalachia ends up in these plants that dot the Southern Ohio landscape.
  • A friend and local tour guide, Pickles, takes a break from trespassing adventures in his truck.
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    A friend and local tour guide, Pickles, takes a break from trespassing adventures in his truck.
  • Pastor Larry Brown collected water samples just as the water started to turn in certain hollows in Mingo County, W. Va. This water issue has turned into a multi-million dollar suit against Massey Energy Corp.
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    Pastor Larry Brown collected water samples just as the water started to turn in certain hollows in Mingo County, W. Va. This water issue has turned into a multi-million dollar suit against Massey Energy Corp.
  • Hillary is an active member in the fight against current coal mining practices. She waits on Kayford Mountain for a detonation in the distance.
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    Hillary is an active member in the fight against current coal mining practices. She waits on Kayford Mountain for a detonation in the distance.
  • A Sunday morning gathering in front of the house where Shea lived for three months.
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    A Sunday morning gathering in front of the house where Shea lived for three months.
  • Despite the intense nature of the industry Shea was documenting, he also focused on the quiet and subtle nature of Appalachian culture.
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    Despite the intense nature of the industry Shea was documenting, he also focused on the quiet and subtle nature of Appalachian culture.
  • From the sky, the coal industry's impact on the landscape is clear.
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    From the sky, the coal industry's impact on the landscape is clear.

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In the summer of 2007, photographer Daniel Shea set out to cover the coal industry of Appalachia. As he puts it:
"What began as an interest in the modern coal mining process known as mountaintop removal quickly evolved into an extensive survey of the social, political and, perhaps most importantly, cultural implications of extracting coal from the Appalachian Mountains. What I found over the course of the trip was that these coal-mining processes had quickly developed into one of the most destructive and pervasive forms of modern industry in the world." Ultimately, he says, "I consider this body of work to be art about a political issue, not political art."

To read more about the project in the artist's own words, check out his site.

Images (c) Daniel Shea.

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