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April 6, 2010

Human toll another reason to mine less coal

Not only is coal bad for the environment and the people above ground, it's terrible for the folks who dig it out of the ground. The tragedy at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine sadly reminds us of this. If you're a Baltimore Gas & Electric customer, you're probably burning some Massey coal every time you turn on a light.

To say Massey has a "spotty" record on safety, to quote the Associated Press, is to put it mildly. Just in the last year the company has been fined more than $300,000 for violations at Upper Big Branch of protocols designed to prevent this kind of disaster. Violations include "failing to follow the plan, allowing combustible coal dust to pile up and having improper firefighting equipment," AP says. In late 2008 Massey admitted to criminal safety violations in an accident that killed two at its Aracoma mine. Failures in that incident included not conducting safety drills and faking a record book to make it look like the drills occurred.

But coal mining is dangerous even when safety procedures are followed. And Massey is the company that blows up mountaintops to get coal. Burnt coal spews poisonous sulfur dioxide and mercury into the air.

Some readers objected to Sunday's column on the benefits of newly accessible natural gas from Appalachian shale formations, which might allow us to burn less coal. Yes, there are environmental and safety concerns associated with shale gas, as people pointed out. But compared with those attached to coal, they seem minor. And I don't know of anybody who has died extracting shale gas.

UPDATE: To be clear: This is not meant as disrespect to those who have been devasted by the tragedy. Our thoughts ought to be with the families of those who died and of those who are missing. And to promote shale gas is not really anti jobs, either. The beauty of shale gas is that it's creating tens of thousands of jobs in many of the same regions where coal is mined. And it doesn't involve buying foreign oil. And it's a lot safer.

Posted by Jay Hancock at 8:42 AM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Energy
        

Comments

nothing like using a tragedy to promote your politics, Jay. Please do us all a favor and go to your boss and ask him if you can be included in the next round of layoffs. Maybe you can be Paul Kruger's right hand man and co-write a book on Economics. That way whatever you two say, we'll do the exact opposite & be much better off.

Yeah, you're right Jason. We shouldn't try to learn anything from this. Or, really, change anything at all. That would be too "political." BTW it's Krugman. JH

Nucs, Nucs and more Nucs. No one in the US has died from nuclear power. We should be building so many plants that the price of electricity is so cheap you would be stupid to use any other power source (heating, A/C, vehicles?). But alas, we have built a plant in over 30 years and even though Obama says they will start building them again...the green weenies haven't yet begun to fight.

How dare you state a claim of this nature! Would you rather fund some Al Qaeda oil instead of using the natural sources we have in our own land? WHAT A KOOSE YOU ARE!!!! HOW DARE YOU!!!!

Actually, shale gas should let us buy less overseas oil, too. Go read the column. JH

You are scum of the earth.

If you had any honor, you'd ask to have this story deleted immediately.

The worst part is, some of those miners (who make a far more honest living than any so-called "journalist" of your ilk") probably mined the coal that produced the energy that ran the computer that allowed you to write this piece of crap. If you are really committed to the environment and the end of coal mining, why don't you protest by turning off the lights and staying off the damn computer, you hypocrite.

We'd all be better off for it.

You are full of ^$%&$#*!


This is a terrible tragedy, made even more horrendous by the possibility that the mining company's lax safety measures contributed to this event.

But, as you've noted previously, coal is still used to supply about 50% of the U.S.'s electricity, so the demand for it will not disappear overnight.

I'm glad you pointed out the downside to mountaintop removal mining, as this method has been presented as an "alternative" to traditional underground coal mining, yet it not only destroys mountains, but pollutes the air and fills streams with runoff, which is hazardous for residents of coal country as well as the local fauna and flora.

As for Paul Kruger: I think he'll be too busy trying to fight for more playing time with the Ravens in his upcoming second year to write a book. And the former president of South Africa with this same name has been dead for over a hundred years.

In response to Bucktail. I'm not sure if you heard about Three Mile Island. Nulcear energy IS dangerous. Low sperm count, high infant death rates. TMI disaster was about 31 years ago... coincidence that a plant hasn't been built in over 30 years? I think not.

I come from a coal and steel area. The jobs those industries brought in were tremendous, but the possibilities of fatality are disturbing. Think Quecreek, et cetera. I wouldn't get rid of coal mining, but MSHA needs to better regulate.

To Chris: Scum of the earth?? Simply making the point that we probably shouldn't use coal because of how dangerous it is to mine makes JH scum of the earth? Well, then your comments make you an ignorant hick. You probably watch NASCAR don't you? lol

First off, you ARE using a tragedy to forward your political agenda. Second, you are completely wrong in using this particular tragedy. The coal mined at this mine is used to make steel, not burned for energy. There is only one way to make steel....with coal. So you are using the tragic deaths of these people incorrectly. At the very least BE a journalist and get your facts straight.

Different fossil fuels are not the answer. The more shale gas we extract, the more environmental and human devastation we will see from that. The answer is efficiency and common sense when it comes to our use of energy, supplemented by renewable energy sources. We all need to cut back on our energy use - turn off lights, buy less junk we don't need, use fewer electronic devices, unplug them when not in use, and buy energy-efficient models of those appliances we really need, reduce our driving and use more fuel efficient vehicles when we must drive, etc., etc. Substituting one fossil fuel for another is like substituting methadone for heroin... eventually you have to get off the methadone too or you haven't really gained anything.

My sympathies go out to these families who have suffered. I also have to question a common thread, that being this accident and Sago both occurred in non- union mines with poor safety records. I realize that miners are caught in a terrible dilemmna, in that everyday they must endure hazardous conditions to make a living in tough economic times. They risk their lives to earn a living, so that energy companies can produce electricity cost effectively. We must do a better job in protecting them as they have earned the right! I can't help but think about the work conditions in union mines. I'm sure they are better and hopefully safer!

Back at you "S"
I do remember Three Mile Island. And I also remember NO ONE dieing from TMI. Low Sperm Count and Infant Death Rate are bogus stats made up by the anti-nuc "watermelons" (green on the outside, red on the in...eh comrade).

For allowing half these comments to post. Then again, simple minded hatred is more of a reflection on the hater than the hatee.

I don't see it as promoting a political agenda, it's pointing out the human cost of something we all take for granted. Sometimes the human cost gets overlooked in calculating ROI and break even points on wind and solar, but it's a real cost.

Interesting tidbit: In the US about 20 people die in coal mining each year. In China that figure is about 2000.

Mr. Hancock,

I ask: Propose a viable alternative.

"Strip" mining? Much safer, but devastates the environment short-term. (Never mind that underground mines do long-term environmental damage.)

Scrap coal and go to natural gas? Natural gas mining has ugly environmental costs, too, and adds to "global warming."

Oil? Think of the baby seals, the otters, the seabirds..... think of the money flowing to dictators and oppressive regimes overseas. Think of the pollution......

Burning trash? Pollutes.

Wind? "Bird Cuisinarts."

Solar? Can we even build enough solar cells?

Hydro? all the land flooded, habitats destroyed....

Nuclear? EEEEEVIL. Hazardous waste that will kill us all.

Not that I'm defending the coal company that operated the mine in Montcoal for one second--it sounds as if they had a reprehensible safety record--but just what is your proposed alternative? A dramatic reduction in the number of humans on the planet? Please, we'd all love to hear your viable alternatives, especially the Department of Energy and President Obama.

Thermal solar costs only about half what photovoltaic does (15-20 cents per kwh vs 25-35/kwh). For reference BGE is in the 10-12 cents range so it's close. Molten liquid salt can retain heat long enough to make steam through a heat exchanger to spin turbines even at night.

Of course such policy would require investing in engineering as opposed to financial engineering.

Dear Joe,

Making the point at the time of a TRAGEDY makes him scum of the earth.

Wake up and get with the program. Anyone who uses a tragedy for political reasons is a snake. And you are too, for supporting this crap.

And another thing, RE: Nascar: stereotypes are bad, even when they're not racist. They're the mark of someone who ran out of thoughts. Grow up and educate yourself.

So I guess the next time there is a terrible loss due to a plane crash, you would recommend that no body fly anymore? Sometimes the lefty environmental thought processes only exude political overtones that they think nobody will question, just becaues it is in the Baltimore Sun. As you can see my most other comments, what a joke.

And you would recommend that nobody investigate the plane crash, find out what caused it or try to prevent future plane crashes. JH

@ Alexander- please stop making sense. Mr. Hancock and his ilk are on a Kamikazee mission to brainwash this country into thinking the way they think. They are part of the CORRUPT media that doesn't report objectivley on anything anymore. Their opinions need to be called out rebuked everytime they say silly things like what was published in this blog. These left wing idealouges take human tradegies in industries they do not care for and spin it for political gain. I.E. Banks=Bad, Insurance Companies=Bad, Wall Street=Bad, Mortgage Lenders=Bad (except when they loan to people who can't afford the loans), and the list goes on. They are here to destroy Capitalism and the free markets and change america forever. Bottom Line- you should not trust a word they say, unless it contains facts.

No doubt this was an awful tragedy and if the coal mine is at fault they should be punished. I would like to look at hard numbers though of coal mining deaths compared to other industries and look at apples to apples. I'd also like for Mr. Hancock to come up w/ 5 feasible alternatives to coal mining? Not some green crap that is its 3rd year of research and years away from even being tested in the real world. Please enlighten us Jay.

"And you would recommend that nobody investigate the plane crash, find out what caused it or try to prevent future plane crashes. JH "

Who's stopping the investigation? Tthere ARE people who are investigating. Trained professionals who know what they are dealing with, not some two bit hack writer who's eyes light up with glee when someone dies because they "sinned" against Mother Earth, and now he can push his Greenie agenda behind the pseudo-legitimacy of "journalism".

And, your freaking self-important attitude is HILARIOUS; as if you believe that somehow, your little hand-wringing article lamenting the very products you won't do without is somehow equivalent to the investigation that is and will be conducted; i.e., people putting their life on the line, going into those mountains and putting their lives in danger. You're a putz sitting behind a desk. Have you ever even BEEN off the pavement in your life?

And, a bulletin: I wouldn't take advice from you on the environment, any more than you should take advice on journalism from a climate researcher (although, even with all the recent developments, I still think they have more credibility than journalists). But, try to be objective, even if you have to fake it. It's your job. And don't dance on the graves of the people who really work, instead of just making pretty words.

Oh, and I see you haven't turned off that computer yet, either. Why don't you turn your air conditioning up another notch while you're at it, Jay? You contribute to the very thing you rail against. Again, sell out and find yourself a nice cabin with a well and no electric. I suspect that when you find yourself in the dead of winter, below freezing, crouched over a hole in the ground to defecate, that ol' nasty coal won't seem quite so bad.

Quit being a taker if you really mean it, and start sustaining yourself, you blowhard. Otherwise, STHU.


Well-done column, Jay. Some people just want to be angry. I've always thought that you are one of the most politically-neutral writers out there.

some of these postings would be amusing, if they weren't so pathetic.
instead of despising the morally bankrupt Massey management, the wingnuts go after the journalist. they must be morally bankrupt Massey shareholders.
god bless the mine victims.

I am deeply troubled by Mr. Hancock’s assertion that turning on a light bulb is contribution to global warming as well as putting men and women in danger. I can’t believe he would make the same assertion to the automobile industry whose products are involved in 35 to 40 thousand deaths each year in accidents. Of course he wouldn’t because an individual exercising personal choice on how to live one’s life is involved. Such a bizarre attempt at ascribing causality does not deserve our attention, rather our attention should be focused on the families affected by this mining accident. Mr. Hancock should at least wait until the situation is resolved before trying to advance an overtly political agenda.

Sooooo, the mine was producing "Met" (Metalurgical or "Coking" used to make steel) coal instead of "Steam" (i.e. for power generation) coal, eh? Once again, the Sun upholds its tradition of never letting the facts get in the way of a story.

So, what do those of you who advocate shutting down the industry propose that the people of West Virginia do for a living? According to the story on CBS news tonight, mining pays about twice what other jobs in the state pay. Senator Byrd won't be around much longer to keep moving federal agencies to the state.

Gas may be cleaner and safer, but the greenies will still get their knickers in a knot over it.

Please turn off your lights, computer, Cuisinart, etc. prior to complaining. Thank you.

I am deeply troubled by Mr. Hancock’s assertion that turning on a light bulb is contribution to global warming as well as putting men and women in danger. I can’t believe he would make the same assertion to the automobile industry whose products are involved in 35 to 40 thousand deaths each year in accidents. Of course he wouldn’t because an individual exercising personal choice on how to live one’s life is involved. Such a bizarre attempt at ascribing causality does not deserve our attention, rather our attention should be focused on the families affected by this mining accident. Mr. Hancock should at least wait until the situation is resolved before trying to advance an overtly political agenda.

"some of these postings would be amusing, if they weren't so pathetic.
instead of despising the morally bankrupt Massey management, the wingnuts go after the journalist. they must be morally bankrupt Massey shareholders."

Had Mr. Hancock gone after Massey, you wouldn't see any objection from me. Good that you formed your opinions before that happened, though. Nice open mind you've got there.

Massey is likely the REAL cause of this tragedy, and the area in which anger, converted to action, will do the most good. Instead, Hancock chose to advance a political agenda. So, I spoke about that. How hard is it to understand? Pointing out that someone is acting like a jerk doesn't make one a Massey shareholder, except maybe in your warped world.

Perhaps your feeble mind doesn't let you explore all sides of the argument before reaching conclusions. Fair enough. How ironic that you sign your post "multicultural", when in fact your own views are anything but tolerant or understanding; jumping to conclusions that people must support Massey when in fact nothing of the sort was stated. I guess all of that sensitivity you supposedly possess from your "multicultural" background must have failed you at this moment when you started jumping to conclusions, putting people into boxes and calling them wingnuts.

Or, maybe you believe you only have to understand those views we agree with? Is that what tolerance is? The more people like you that I see, who preach multiculturalism but lash out at people without ANY facts or understanding, the more I think that this is true. Tolerance, my a**. You're pathetic.

I didn't go after Massey because Mr. Hancock's article wasn't about Massey. It was about Hancock finding an opportunity, albeit a bloody one, to advance his political agenda. Never let a crisis go to waste, I guess.

But, if it makes you feel any better, yes, Massey's past actions are those of a reprehensible slimeball. No one here disputed that. No one is defending Massey.

That STILL doesn't excuse Hancock for swooping in and marking his own political points using the blood of dead miners. So, your feeble argument is nothing more than a red herring, trying to distract us from the clown who puts politics above human life. Shame on you for carrying his water. Apparently, from your actions, you share the opinion that it is okay to exploit the dead to push your point of view. You chose to defend Hancock, which is what this is all really about!

If you want to write about Massey, start your own blog. Else, take your whining elsewhere. Hancock's a big boy. He doesn't need you playing mommy for him.

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About Jay Hancock
Jay Hancock has been a financial columnist for The Baltimore Sun since 2001. He has also been The Baltimore Sun's diplomatic correspondent in Washington and its chief economics writer. Before moving to Baltimore in 1994 he worked for The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk and The Daily Press of Newport News.

His columns appear Tuesdays and Sundays.
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