The controversy over “Big Coal” is hardly a new topic. For years, groups like the Sierra Club have protested against every type of mining. The regions in the U.S. where mining that occurs is shown below.
As shown, a high concentration of mining is done in West Virginia, Kentucky, Eastern Ohio, and Western Pennsylvania, much of what is considered to be Appalachia. Traditionally poor, Appalachia sees several types of mining on its land. Coal tended to be the only driving economic factor in this part of Appalachia. Within Appalachia certain counties rely so heavily on coal that over 70% of the economy is tied to it. (1) Studies show that reduction of mining will undoubtedly lead to a greater reliance on social programs and poverty. However, the Sierra Club launched the campaign Beyond Coal, claiming that coal leads to 13,000 premature deaths and over $1 billion in healthcare costs in America every year. One of the goals of the Beyond Coal Campaign is to only mine underground in Appalachia.(2) Eliminating other forms of mining will eliminate jobs.(1) In a region where its inhabitants saw manufacturing jobs disappear the impact could be enormous. There is the distinct fear for the future of the region if the Beyond Coal campaign is successful. As the keynote speaker at the New York Coal Association’s annual conference in 2007 Bob Murray, of Murray Energy, told the audience, “some wealthy elitists in our country, who cannot tell fact from fiction, can afford an Olympian detachment from the impacts of draconian climate change policy. For them, the jobs and dreams destroyed as a result will be nothing more than statistics and the cares of other people. These consequences are abstractions to them, but they are not to me, as I can name many of the thousands of the American citizens whose lives will be destroyed by these elitists’ ill-conceived ‘global goofiness’ campaigns.”(3)
As the potential for the shift away from mining Appalachia occurred, so did the potential for economic growth within another energy sector. Drilling has occurred on US soil for over 60 years. However, only recently has natural gas played a dominant role in U.S. energy discussions. The discovery of Marcellus and Utica shale in Eastern Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia brought hope to the depressed region of Appalachia. However, hydraulic fracturing, known commonly as “fracking” also receives criticism from the Sierra Club. The Marcellus shale is so deep that the only way to extract the natural gas is by tracking. Below is a map of where the Marcellus shale play is, the red zones are Marcellus.
Recently the Beyond Natural Gas campaign was launched. The Sierra Club believes that the U.S. should not use energy from fossil fuels. If eventually fossil fuels are not utilized, where will that leave the people of Appalachia?
- Roenker, Jonathan “A Study on the Current Economic Impacts of the Appalachian Coal Industry and its Future in the Region.” The Appalachian Regional Commission 2001
- Colon, Alycia “A CEO with a Spine.” New York Sun 3 April 2007