WV coal protest: mine

A coal mine in West Virginia.

Midwest Energy News has a great story about an Indiana coal company that’s trying to start mining in central Illinois. The company, Sunrise Coal, quietly worked for three years to convince local farmers to sign over the mineral rights to their land, creating a 19,500-acre swath over a virgin coal seam, which the company is calling the Bulldog Mine. The coal was ignored for decades because of its high sulfur content, but recent generations of emissions scrubbers have made such coal usable — and lucrative.

But there’s a big problem: water.

Sunrise says they’ll need between 340,000 and 540,000 gallons of water a day for the first few years of operation, and opponents say that number could climb to 750,000 gallons a day once the mine gets going. These totals dwarf the amount used by entire villages in the region. The nearby village of Oakwood, Illinois, population 1,594, for example, uses 130,000 gallons a day, village president Bob Jennings said.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

When asked where the mine’s water will come from, [Sunrise spokeswoman Suzanne] Jaworowski said initially, “a collection pond.” When a reporter pointed out that rainwater was unlikely to supply the hundreds of thousands of gallons needed, she said that the company is looking to the village of Homer, Illinois, which borders the mine, for additional water.

It’s hard to believe that concern about the amount of water Sunrise plans to use isn’t at least somewhat heightened by the ongoing drought. Were Sunrise to present its plans in a year saturated with rain, the response might very well be different. But unfortunately for Sunrise — and happily for its opponents — the company is applying to start up its mine at perhaps the worst possible moment.

Water’s not the only concern, of course; objections have been raised over other environmental impacts and how the mine might change the character of the farming community. But we’d rather focus on the elegant irony of a coal company appealing for support in the midst of a drought that’s been linked to the climate change that results from runaway consumption of coal.

Sorry, Sunrise. Maybe it’s time to consider becoming a solar company. Makes more sense anyway.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations DOUBLED!