As our pursuit of various resources ever greatens, for resources such as coal and oil and natural gas. We as humans will stop at nothing to get this “vital” resource which leaves the World scarred and perhaps irreparable. Every resource which we acquire has pros and cons, which will be listed as I talk about them. So let’s start with coal and one process which damages the environment on an enormous scale. Mountaintop Removal.
What is Mountaintop Removal?
Well as the question says, Mountaintop Removal is basically the removal of a Mountaintop to access the coal reserves underneath. The process of Mountaintop Removal is one of the worst ways to extract ecologically by basically blowing up the mountain side. Though it is very cost effective economically as the process needs less man power to extract which costs less money. Simply put, the less money spent, the more is gained so it’s a win win situation for the companies doing this throughout the world. But there must be a reason as to why the extraction has only recently started in this area, and that reason is now that it’s economically viable to do so. But is it ecologically viable?
Once thought to be not economically viable due to the cost of the blowing up a mountain side, it has now become a lot less expensive due to the increased price of coal and raw materials which companies gather from the area.
But what problems does this process have?
Filling up the streams with rubble which cuts off the water flow and supply to the surrounding areas. Cutting off vital nutrients for the animal and plant life which may survive around the area. Wiping out crucial forests and spoiling the environment where diverse ecology survives.
Open Cast Mining
A process which can extract various ores or materials is through Open Cast Mining which is possibly the easiest way to get access to these materials, but definitely has bad implications towards the landscape. The Tar Sands pit pictured in the background are crucial to the economy of Canada as it is one of the main providers of oil to the United States, which creates a steady political link between the two. These pits are the second largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia, approximately the size of Florida which will one day be extracted, destroying the landscape forever. Unfortunately extracting the fossil fuel out of the sand generates more “heat-trapping gasses” than that of conventional methods such as oil drilling and this production is the single largest contributor to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions due to the way in which the oil is extracted; with blasts of steam and other industrial processes which also uses Natural Gas.
Here's an aerial map of one of the Tar Pits to show the scale of extraction in one area.
Natural gas has many uses, ranging from the help in production of oil in refineries as I’ve just mentioned to heating up our homes to fertilisers for the production of food. The gas takes a long time to process and usually has very big refineries, as pictured in the background, where the gas gets prepared and transported. These refineries are usually placed near a river or a water source so that the gasses can be shipped instantly, or transported through pipes which span a vast amount of countries, destroying habitats along the way. From the Pie Chart shown shows the Natural Gas usage in the USA in 2002. As you can see 32% is used up for Industrial Uses, which goes to refine oil and in to coal production.
Natural Gas converted in to Fertiliser
Natural Gas can go through a process in which it gets changed in to Fertiliser for Agricultural Purposes. The upside of this is that as the world’s population increases, the more food we need and therefore we need more fast, reliable ways in which to produce the food needed, which is a basic human need. On the other hand though, the fertilisers which help create the food can in fact destroy other parts of the food chain by polluting rivers and streams which run near the agricultural land, killing the ecology which dwells in those areas. This is known as Agricultural Runoff.
Is there a way to stop all this?
Renewable energy would possibly be the best way in order to stop the production of Oil, Coal and Natural Gas, which destroy the landscape. But the tree hugging hippies out there may also be concerned about renewable energy sources such as Wind Farms, Hydroelectric and harnessing the incoming Solar Energy. Even though these are ways in which we can stop harming the environment, the impacts they have could just as severe. Offshore wind farms can destroy habitats to produce electricity, but after a while, those habitats will be restored throughout the wind farm area, creating new areas for life to flourish. Onshore wind farms can be an “eyesore” though if people want renewable energy, I suggest they come to terms with having a big white turbine on the top of a hill. Hydroelectric production is great and steady as well, though blocking off entire valleys, destroying the landscape to support humans, is that really worth it? Of course more fish would be introduced, but even for the humans which resided in the valleys in the first place will have to be relocated. Harnessing Solar Energy would be fantastic, which we do today, it’s just not as cost effective in the short term as we would all like it.
If we want to continue to consume as much energy as we need, we are going to have to face facts that the landscapes we once knew and love will disappear.
If you have sat through whilst reading all that, well congratulations! I enjoyed giving that presentation, even though it was only 4 minutes long!