Coal ranching

On Tuesday I got my first good look into the coal mines of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. This is literally where the deer and the antelope played, until the human appetite for power began eating it up. Featured are the Jacobs Ranch and Black Thunder Mines. The latter is featured in John McPhee’s Uncommon Carriers. Great reading. Go get it. (The chapters appeared first in The New Yorker.) Black Thunder (that’s it, above) is the world’s largest coal mine. It’s owned by Arch Coal. About its Powder River mines, Arch says,

Arch had sales volume of 99 million tons of coal in 2007 in the southern Powder River Basin in Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal-supply region. This tonnage is produced at Thunder Basin’s Black Thunder and Coal Creek mines. Arch controls approximately 1.75 billion tons of reserves in the PRB.

I also shot Coal Creek, which is on the other side of another huge mine, Jacobs Ranch. Got many shots of that one too. In fact, I have all these shots in RAW, in case anybody wants a high-quality copy.

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11 Responses to Coal ranching

  1. RBM says:

    Energy Related

    I know you’re on the east coast but wondered if you had any insight in this:

    Bizarrely, the company and the environmental groups that were parties to the bargain kept the rest of its terms confidential. It is not unheard of for environmentalists to sell out the public interest
    for political or financial reasons, and no elected official should ever approve a secret deal that affects public resources.

    I view energy, in this case, through the ‘addiction’ model. Affluence seems to be able to
    delay the inevitable pain, but the pain will occur

    The quote highlights some unusual dynamics in negotiations.

  2. Doc Searls says:

    Thanks for that, RBM.

    Just posted this.

  3. Pauly says:

    Great photo Doc. I blogged on that wonderful McPhee book on my late “blog city” Paulytron, as I am a “freight rail geek” and the PRB has been a prime contributor to the freight rail renaissance over recent decades.

  4. Pingback: Breaking windows- changing our thinking to change the world « Blissful Ignorance

  5. Doc Searls says:

    Pauly, you got me going back through the pictures and updating or correcting the captions.

  6. lou vanderplate says:


  7. Erik Cecil says:

    Gotta love it Doc. Coal is nature’s original carbon sequestration strategy. Took a million years or so to suck it out of the atmosphere and tuck it into vegetation that eventually resulted in coal. So, like a good sentient species, we dig it up with equipment more monstrous than any dinosaur (“terrible, powerful, wondrous + lizard” – so many harmonics there alone) – and blast it right back up where it came from. Given that dynamic, whether drills or smokestacks, I suspect both are pointed at places far more vital than simply our insatiable need for MORE.

  8. billp37 says:

    Here’s some coal links with photos of black thunder and north antelope mines.

    Here’s some photos of field trip to San Juan coal mine in New Mexico.

  9. billp37 says:

    “[O]ur conclusion, based on is statements in this letter to you is that EPA in the case of Desert Rock EPA has violated its charter by failing to render “enforcement activities related to pollution abatement and control to provide for the treatment of the environment as a single interrelated system” by not considering possible damage caused to the environment as result of possible new construction in Arizona which may be unserviceable for electric energy and water shortages reasons in the future.

    Appearance has been created by this violation of charter that EPA has, in fact, improperly favored Arizona new construction industry by initially permitting Desert Rock and then by issuing a Prevention of Significant Deterioration permit (AZP 04-01) authorizing construction of the Desert Rock Energy Facility (Desert Rock) without explanation of why the new electricity is needed or the damage done to the environment, both in New Mexico and Arizona, by possible new construction.

    EPA’s failure, in the case of Desert Rock, to follow its own rules, we feel, have voided the permitting process.

    Therefore, we ask that EPA deny Desert Rock permit for failure of EPA to follow its own rules and possible EPA collusion with Arizona new construction industry for an attempt to improperly obtain that permit.

    If EPA does not grant this request, then please inform us of any appeals processes as well as procedures for filing complaints against those at EPA may have been improperly involved with Arizona new construction interests in the permitting process.

    Please respond by March 2, 2009….”

    Get active.

  10. As a native Wyomingite, I look at Thunder Basin coal mining with horror and disgust. Are you aware of the huge PR television commercial being played here in Seattle Washington touting the “clean coal” idea? I get sick to my stomach every time I see it! Clean coal is an obvious myth, but the public will sucker for a good ad every time. When I was a kid, Gilette water was nasty tasting and almost undrinkable….bet it is a lot worst now! I think Dick Cheney has put his money to work here and he has the deepest pockets in Wyoming. How can anyone fight that kind of power? Wyoming has great sun and wind, and could produce energy cleanly for millions of homes and businesses this way….when will the good citizens of this state stop drinking the Kool Aide that Cheney and the big coal interests are brewing for them?

  11. Doc Searls says:

    Candace, I feel the same way. Many of the mountains of Wyoming were — and this is a word used by geologists — exhumed by wind. I have heard as well that a Wyoming weathervane is “an anvil on a chain.” But coal is what we’re consuming (it’s not “produced” — nature has already done that). I’m not sure the public is as gullible as you say about advertising. But I am sure that humans as a species are pestilential. We chew through irreplaceable resources like termites through wood.

    Fossil fuels are not the only resources we can’t replace. I visit that in more depth here.

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