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Monday, July 28, 2008

Coal Mining Up Close

My family and I took a field trip today to the Eagle Butte Mine north of Gillette, Wyoming today.

The mine is owned by Foundation Coal West, Inc. According to some of the figures supplied (which are a few years old), the mine has shipped over 43 million tons of coal and employs over 600 people. Their operation has contributed about $50 million in federal revenue, $37 million to the state of Wyoming, and $15 million to the local Campbell County.

According to our tour guide, the coal seam they're working on is buried under about 250 feet of dirt and the seam itself is about 120 feet thick. She said they expect to continue mining coal from this seam for another 30 years. They ship coal all over the Midwest and as far away as Georgia.

One thing I was struck by was the environmental impact. The pit is huge, looking like a miniature section of the Grand Canyon from a distance. There is an area adjacent to the open pit that has been "reclaimed," meaning the mine has put dirt back in over the open pit area and reseeded it with grass and trees. If you didn't see the open pit area nearby, you'd never suspect that tons of coal had been mined out of there and the dirt replaced.

Despite what the environmental extremists say, we really can utilize our natural resources for our energy needs without destroying the planet.


This is part of the reclaimed pit area, looking out the window of our tour van to the east. We saw a herd of antelope grazing along here, and along the open pit area itself. The wildlife seemed unperturbed by the mining operation.



This photo shows the black coal seem down in the pit.



Here you see one of the diggers scooping up coal to put in the back of huge dump trucks; above it is one which is digging away the dirt to expose the coal seam.


This is one of the huge dump trucks that takes the coal out of the pit and to the crusher to prepare it to be loaded onto rail cars. Each of those tires is 12 feet tall, and costs $35,000 each--and they last about a year.


Another dump truck getting ready to back up to the crusher and dump its load.



After the coal has been crushed into small pieces, it is loaded onto rail cars that move underneath the dispenser about about 1 MPH.


If you're within driving distance of Gillette, you can book a free tour by calling the Gillette Visitor Center at 307-686-0040. They give tours up to August 15.


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