Coal Mining

Hunter Valley, Australia Credit: Max Phillips

Hunter Valley, Australia. Credit: Max Phillips

Coal mining has taken a tremendous toll on human health and the environment. Vast tracts of forests, mountains and farmland have been cleared to make way for coal mines. Communities have been forcibly displaced and their lands destroyed.

Communities that live near mines suffer from air and water pollution. They face reduced life expectancies and increased rates of lung cancer and heart, respiratory and kidney disease. Pregnant women have a higher risk of having children of low birth weight. In the Appalachia region of the United States, entire mountains have been dug up for coal mining. An estimated 3800 kilometres of streams have been buried by mountaintop removal mining. The resulting toxins in drinking water have triggered thousands of premature deaths and increased the rate of birth defects by 26 percent.

Miners face great physical risk due to accidents, explosions and mine collapses. In China, roughly 4,000-6,000 workers die from underground mining accidents each year. Miners are also directly exposed to toxic fumes, coal dust and toxic metals, increasing their risk for fatal lung diseases such as pneumoconiosis and silicosis.

The toll on the physical landscape is severe. One of the most serious impacts of coal mining is acid mine drainage. Acid mine drainage contaminates ground and surface water with heavy metals and toxins exposed by mining. This destroys aquatic ecosystems and water supplies that communities depend on for drinking and agriculture.

During mining operations, enormous amounts of groundwater are drained from aquifers so mining companies can access coal seams – up to 10,000 litres per tonne of coal. A series of proposed mines in Australia’s Galilee Basin is projected to extract 1,343 gigalitres of water – over 2-1/2 times the amount of water in the Sydney Harbor. This extraction will drastically lower the water table, rendering local wells unusable and impacting nearby rivers. Open cut mines also result in massive erosion and sedimentation of streams, wetlands and rivers.

Today communities around the world – in countries as diverse as China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Australia, Colombia and South Africa – are rising up to oppose new coal mines and demand reparations and restoration for the impacts to their livelihoods and the natural environment.

Featured Resources

280 CSOs from 47 Countries Call on Japanese Government to Reject Financing for Cirebon and Indramayu Coal Plants in West Java, Indonesia

On March 23, Indonesian and Japanese CSOs submitted an international petition signed by 280 CSOs from 47 countries to Japanese government, to call on JBIC and JICA not to finance the Cirebon expansion coal-fired power plant (1,000 MW) and the Indramayu expansion coal-fired power plant (1,000 MW), both located in West Java, Indonesia. 

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Bangladeshi and Indian Prime Ministers urged to protect Sundarbans from coal-fired power plant in open letter signed by more than 70 civil society organisations

.”Today, more than 70 non-governmental organisations from around the world called for the cancellation of the proposed Rampal coal power plant, in an open letter to the governments of Bangladesh and India. 

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Breathing in the Benefits: How an accelerated coal phase-out can reduce health impacts and costs for Albertans.

While the Government of Alberta announced its intention to phase out coal by 2030, a shut-down schedule has yet to be unveiled. An accelerated phase-out in a stepwise fashion, as proposed by the Pembina Institute, could avoid approximately an additional 600 premature deaths, 500 emergency room visits, and nearly $3 billion in socio-economic value of avoided health outcomes between 2015 and 2035. Read More

The Sky’s Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals Require a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production.

This report discusses key findings by the authors that the potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond 2°C of warming. It then goes on to offer key recommendations to Governments that no new fossil fuel extraction or transportation infrastructure should be built nor be granted any new permits for them. Read More

Dodging clean up costs: Six tricks coal mining companies play

This report looks at six methods that coal companies operating in Australia currently use to avoid, minimize or delay their rehabilitation obligations in New South Wales and Queensland. The report finds that the existing legal framework allows public and private companies to rort the system by avoiding their rehabilitation responsibilities. The result is unnecessary, and in some cases extreme, costs that are borne by the taxpayer when proper rehabilitation is performed. Read More
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