“I have to hand it to the company, they had reclamation crews right behind it,” Wathen said. “I’m not for coal mining, but they are doing the job well.”
Already the machine has crossed roads and highways four times. Each time Mr. Tom has crossed a road, the road must be closed. The Alabama Department of Transportation allows such a road closure to last only a day, and when the company is done, the road must be returned to its previous condition.
Before the sun rises, earth-moving crews set to work, covering the highways with a dirt bridge, which Mr. Tom crosses early in the morning. As soon as the machine crosses the gap, bulldozers, track hoes and dump trucks remove the dirt bridge.
When Mr. Tom crossed U.S. Highway 216 on either side of Brookwood, the highways were set back so meticulously that the grass on either side of the road looked as though it had never been touched, much less buried, under tons of earth and crushed by such a huge machine.
“At least this thing is leaving my watershed, but I pray for the people up there, because it will be the coal company’s way,” Wathen said.
Mr. Tom will work at the Shannon mines between Abernant and Bessemer. Drummond’s permit for the coal field is more than 6,000 acres, according to Nelson Brooke, Wathen’s counterpart at Black Warrior Riverkeeper.
However, it’s unclear if Mr. Tom will begin work as soon as it gets there, or if it will again sit idle until markets rebound.
In recent years, the bituminous metallurgical coal found in that area reached all-time highs, passing a market inflection point where mining in Alabama was profitable again. For the most part, the rise in demand was from a global market.
According to Randall Johnson, director of the Alabama Surface Mining Commission, most of Alabama’s metallurgical coal is exported to Brazil and Europe, but demand in China also drove prices higher.
“It’s all tied together and you really can’t pin it on one thing,” he said.
Also, 150-year flood events in Queensland, Australia, temporarily closed mines there, a major source of the world’s metallurgical coal.
In early 2011, metallurgical coal hit an all-time high of $330 per ton in some markets, and coal companies strove to mine as furiously as possible to meet that demand.<< previous 1 2 3 4 5 next >>