Mining coal is one of the dirtiest and most dangerous ways to extract energy from the Earth. We could discuss the way mining companies destroy entire mountains and pollute streams with toxic waste water for hours. An Australian coal company’s recent accident demonstrates how even the side effects of mining perpetuate the destruction.
Contractors working for coal giant Glencore Xstrata were tasked with repairing some serious fissures it had created on a hilly ridge in an Australian conservation area while mining for coal. In what the company thought was a straight-forward fix, the contractors deposited grout into a crack at the top of the cliff. Too bad they didn’t pay attention to what was happening at the bottom.
According to an expose in the Newcastle Herald, the workers were ”unaware that more than 12 concrete trucks worth of grout was spewing out another crack at the bottom and running straight into the creek.”
Just to be clear, that’s not an accidental spill of concrete–it’s an avalanche.
“What we found bore more resemblance to a minor avalanche of concrete, which our GPS measure showed stretched more than 400 metres downhill,” explained a Herald reporter after making a trip to the dump site. “To make its descent it had swamped smaller trees, flooding around rocks and logs along its path. Cascading down the hill like a miniature glacier, the set overflow looks pretty similar to a thick coating of marzipan on the forest floor. It’s impossible to know how many plants, holes, gaps and even animals may lay beneath the stony substance.”
The fact that a careless coal company made such a horrifying blunder isn’t even the worst part. It’s what they did after: nothing. What remediation that could have been possible immediately after the accident–before the grout became concrete–was lost as the coal company spent weeks trying to cover its tracks.
“Being a coal company, Switzerland-based Xstrata decided to keep its little accident a secret from the public. Nearly three months later, after the debacle was exposed by the Herald, the state government ordered a cleanup,” reports Grist. Ironically, the revelation was made plain to the public just a day after a company spokesman assured local residents that the mine was working to “provide appropriate remediation of mining impacts and operate in a responsible manner”.
Currently, the government has ordered Xstrata to remove the concrete from the creek bed area, and set a deadline of this month for the company to explain its plan for doing so. If you’ve ever tried to put toothpaste back into the tube, you know the task ahead will not be an easy one.
Image via USACE-TAS/Flickr