Monday, November 16, 2009

One powerful fly

Posted By on Mon, Nov 16, 2009 at 1:55 PM

Who knew a fly could bug big business?

Mayflies may seal the fate of mountaintop mining in the Appalachian hills of the eastern U.S.

Companies such as Massey Energy Co. that mine coal there by stripping mountain peaks and dumping debris in streams are being asked by the Environmental Protection Agency for the first time to safeguard the mayfly, one of the oldest winged insects and a bait favored by fly-fisherman.

Applicants for new mines will have to show they wouldn’t cause pollution deadly to the aquatic bug. That puts at risk about $3 billion a year in coal that operators led by Massey and International Coal Group Inc. extract in Appalachia, said Kevin Book, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners LLC. Without fresh permits to dump debris, mines may shut by 2012 in states such as West Virginia, he said.

Mountaintop mining produces millions of tons of crushed shale and sandstone dumped in valleys and streams. Rainwater flowing though the debris carries dissolved metals into waters below, a lethal stew for mayflies, the EPA says.

In mountaintop mining, peaks are blown away by dynamite to expose coal. Companies may be forced to make greater use of tunnels and shafts, which require more labor and can add $3 to $10 to the cost of extracting a ton of coal, Book said.

More than 1,200 miles (1,930 kilometers) of creeks and streams have been buried by mining debris in Appalachia from surface-mining techniques, including mountaintop removal, the EPA said in 2005.

Mining’s threat to mayflies, which hatch in streams and grow to a quarter-inch to more than an inch (2.5 centimeters) long, has been documented since the late 1990s. This year, the EPA under President Barack Obama for the first time held up new permits on the grounds of inadequate safeguards for the insect.

Read the entire article at Bloomberg.com.

Further reading: Salt-loving algae wipe out fish in Appalachian stream

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