The need for cheap energy is coming into conflict
with efforts to preserve a forest. Coal mining companies are using a technique that causes the land to subside and sometimes changes natural underground water systems. Environmentalists say mining underneath a forest preserve could destroy the ecosystem. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports on environmental activists who are defending the
The need for cheap energy is coming into conflict with efforts to preserve a forest.
Coal mining companies are using a technique that causes the land to subside and sometimes
change natural underground water systems. Environmentalists say mining underneath a forest
preserve could destroy the ecosystem. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lisa Ann Pinkerton
reports on environmental activists who are defending the forest:
For decades, the coal mining industry has been using a technique of extraction called
long wall mining. Industry officials say it’s the most effective way to get the bituminous
coal out of the ground. In traditional room and pillar mining, the land above is not disturbed.
But the long wall machine leaves no support for the 1000-foot tunnel created in its wake. After
the coal is extracted, the ground caves in, causing the land to sink.
Dysart Woods, in southeastern Ohio, is slated for such a fate. The conservation group,
Buckeye Forest Council, wants to block the woods from mining. Its members believe long
wall mining will destroy the old-growth forest. The four hundred and fifty acres, fifty-five
acres of the trees are more than 300 years old. Fred Gittis is an attorney who has volunteered
his services to protect the woods.
“And these woods are precious, and they are among the last old-growth forest areas remaining,
not only in Ohio, but in this part of the country. Recently a documentary was filmed in Dysart Woods, because it has some of the conditions that would have existed at the time of George
Gittis argues state should repeal the mining permit granted for Dysart Woods. Ohio Valley
Coal was granted the permit in 2001. As steward of the woods, Ohio University disputed the
permit for three years. But last November, it agreed to drop its appeal, in exchange for $10,000 from the state to study the forest’s water, as it is undermined. Ohio Valley
Coal Company would drill the wells needed. But the Buckeye Forest Council says a study doesn’t
solve the problem.
“First of all it is just a water monitoring project. It offers no protection to the woods.
Second of all, they don’t have the base line data right now to compare to what it normal.”
That’s Susan Heikler, Executive Director of the Buckeye Forest Council. When Ohio University
accepted the mining permit, her organization took up the fight. The group worked with lawyer
Fred Gittis and nationally known experts to review the science of the Coal Company’s mining
plan. Gittis says the Council’s experts were not impressed.
And, both hydrogeologists and mining experts have indicated that the basic science related
to this mining permit is, not to be insulting but, junk.”
The plan calls for long wall mining within 300 feet of the old-growth forest. However,
experts from the Buckeye Forest Council say a 1500 foot buffer around the woods
is the only way to insure the protection of the hydrology – the natural water system that
sustains the forest.
In a major concession two years ago, the Coal Company agreed not to long wall mine directly
under Dysart Woods. Instead, room and pillar mining is planned. The Company says that will
delay subsidence for centuries to come. Attorney Fred Gittis says without core samples from
directly under the woods, the company doesn’t have the data to back up this claim.
“If you don’t know what that rock is, if it’s soft like claystone or shale, it can collapse.
And so its pretty basic stuff.”
Attorneys for the company declined to be interviewed for this story. In statements, the
Company defends its lack of data by pointing to exemptions they were granted by the Department
of Mineral Resources. The Company stands by its assertion that, quote, “trees and other surface
vegetation will absolutely not be affected by mining.” But in September, the story changed. In
court, a mining consultant for the company, Hanjie Chen, testified that the forest floor would
sink 5 inches. Attorneys for Ohio Valley Coal abruptly stopped his testimony after this
statement. But Gittis says the damage to the coal company’s case is already done.
Although Buckeye Forest Council rested its case in July, the defendant, Ohio Valley Coal is
still adding witnesses and dragging out the case. Fred Gittis says the Company is trying to
exhaust the Buckeye Forest Council’s legal funding. He adds that this is why he volunteers his
For the time being, mining under the old growth forest has been pushed back until the hearings
conclude in November.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lisa Ann Pinkerton.