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Ohio Company Wants To Mine For Coal Under A State Park

Barkcamp State Park in Belmont County, Ohio. CREDIT: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Barkcamp State Park in Belmont County, Ohio. CREDIT: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

A major Ohio coal company is trying to get permission to mine beneath an eastern Ohio state park.

As the Columbus Dispatch reports, Ohio Valley Coal Co. has sent an application to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to expand an existing mine into Barkcamp State Park. The expanded section would run 16 acres into the park, and include another 314 acres outside of the park. The company would be doing room-and-pillar mining, a process in which underground “rooms” are excavated for coal, while chunks of undisturbed land are left around the rooms as “pillars” in order to hold the land up.

Robert Shields, chair of the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club, told ThinkProgress that this method of mining is concerning to him. He said room and pillar mining leaves land vulnerable to subsiding, which could be dangerous for visitors in the state park. But he said he’d be concerned about any mining taking place in a state park — whether it was room-and-pillar or some other method.

“We at the Sierra Club do not support any surface or subsurface mining or metal extraction in state parks. They are there for the enjoyment of people, and this does not contribute to that,” he said. “As a matter of fact, it detracts.”

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Shields is concerned for the park, but he’s more concerned about the fact that Ohio is still treating coal as a viable energy source.

“The mining of coal is continued support for the use of fossil fuels,” he said. “And that is not taking Ohio and the people of Ohio in the right direction in 21st century. Coal is 19th century, and the people of Ohio deserve better than that.”

Ohio Valley Coal Co. is owned by Murray Energy, a company that’s been accused of firing an employee for not donating money to certain political campaigns and whose CEO, Robert Murray, has called carbon regulations “evil.” Murray Energy, which is the country’s largest privately-owned coal company, sued the Environmental Protection Agency over its proposed rule on power plant emissions in June.

The Columbus Dispatch reported last month that other state parks, forests, and wildlife reserves in Ohio could be at risk of being opened up to mining and drilling. State records obtained by the Dispatch showed that the mineral rights of 18 state forests, 24 state parks, and 53 natural areas in the state were owned by parties other than the state. That discovery is particularly troubling in light of a September Ohio Supreme Court ruling that allows companies to strip-mine wildlife areas in the state for coal. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources wasn’t happy about the ruling, Ohio DNR spokesperson Bethany McCorkle told ThinkProgress in September.

“ODNR is disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision, which ignored substantial precedent as to this issue,” she said. “Based on this decision ODNR intends to review all of its deeds to confirm what other surface disturbances, if any, are possible as a result of this outcome.”

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Battles over drilling and mining in state-owned land have cropped up in other places in recent years. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett has tried this year to expand drilling in state parks and forests, an effort that’s prompted multiple lawsuits from environmental groups. And earlier this year, the Republican Party endorsed a plan to seize some federal lands for drilling and mining, a plan former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar said would “cause Teddy Roosevelt to turn over in his grave.”