Mom always said “Leave it better than you found it”
In central North Dakota a surface mine is doing things differently. And your mom would be proud. The Freedom Mine takes pride in their successful program of reclaiming land for farm use after it’s been mined. It is the largest lignite coal mine in America, and they mine an average of 600 acres per year. Over the last 30 years Freedom has mined 14,000 acres and reclaimed the land for farm use.
Reclamation begins before the first shovel is lifted and requires a lengthy process. Once they begin digging, the top soil is carefully removed and set aside. The soil is kept separate to preserve this nutritionally vital earth that makes the land so fertile. The bulk of the removed earth, the overburden, is removed by a giant electric-powered dragline. This machine weighs 13 million lbs and is operated by 3 people. The bucket used to dig is big enough to hold 4 Chevy Suburbans!
One hundred seventy feet below the surface is a thick black swath of coal. Dump trucks 10 times larger than the average semi-truck hauls the coal up and out of the mine onto a short rail train. The coal is transported about 30 miles down the track. Half of the coal is used to produce energy locally. The other half is sent to a state-of-the-art gasification plant to make synthetic natural gas, liquid nitrogen, anhydrous ammonia, and many other products.
Once the coal is removed, the layers of earth are returned to fill the mine, rocks are removed, native grasses and trees are replanted. Within a few years cattle are grazing and farmers are harvesting row crops.
Freedom Mine’s goal is to balance providing affordable energy with respect for the environment. Reclamation ensures the landscape is as good or better after mining – or to quote mom again, “put away the old before starting the new.”
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