West Virginia Coal Mining - Toxic - VICE

Uploaded by vice on 26.10.2011


DERRICK BECKLES: We went down to West Virginia to take a
look at coal mining.
Because instead of going underground like they used to
for decades and generations, they have a whole new way of
doing it that blew our minds.

We're on our way up to Larry Gibson's.
He lives on this mountain.
And you'll see his property just has an incredible view of
what's going on around here.
By the way, us being up here isn't exactly what they're
thrilled about.
These companies don't want people to know
this is going on.
The locals are kind of screwed, because this is how
they make their living.
So if they shoot their mouths off too much, they're shooting
themselves in the foot.
Holy shit.

This is the new way that we mine for coal.
I could easily tell you we're in Afghanistan in the
mountains, and we're looking for Osama Bin Laden, and you'd
believe me.
This is the second most bio-diverse area in the world.
And unfortunately, we need what's under these mountains
and will do anything to get it.

DWIGHT SIEMIACZKO: -they can get more coal quicker and
cheaper with less people.
The bad part of that-
B. I. SAMMONS: When the old timers mined
coal, it was hard work.
But now, they need coal faster than men can mine it.
So they're taking the tops off of mountains to get it faster.
When George Bush first took office he said, mine the coal,
get the oil, get the gas, the country needs it.
So he just opened the doors.
This is Pandora's box.
DERRICK BECKLES: Coal is also being sold to North Americans
as this beacon for self sufficiency, in terms of a
fossil fuel, that we could depend on.
But this is how we get it, and then you can heat
your homes with it.
DWIGHT SIEMIACZKO: But those are things that happens under
the poet's eyes, under their noses, they just don't realize
what is at stake here.
And the coal companies get by.
DERRICK BECKLES: Hi, I'm visiting you
from Zebulon Five.
A new planet that Earth is conquering.
We're currently blasting away to make room for Earth
Luckily we can breathe here, and it looks just enough like
West Virginia to make you feel at home.

Some people are like, you know, I don't mind if the
mountains are gone.
I mean, it's just more flat land for development and
everything, which make sense as well.
And then, there's the argument that there's an entire, kind
of, natural beauty.
Is the coal industry upsetting it in any way?
CHRIS HAMILTON: Not necessarily.
I think that there's some localized concern expressed.
But as a state, flat lands are a real commodity
here in West Virginia.
If you don't believe me, just drive up and down any road.
DERRICK BECKLES: You level them out, you can't build a
mountain back.
And then, somebody showed me the process.
CHRIS HAMILTON: We are rebuilding mountains here, the
best way, by taking the rock during the mining phase and
basically back stacking it and hauling it back to the
location where it will be placed.
And it's done so in a very engineered manner.
DERRICK BECKLES: So we're just outside of Kayford.
And this is what's called a valley fill.
That entire plateaued region that you can see where the sun
is shining used to be a valley.
It's been filled in, it's completely been filled in.
All of their equipment, everything they've done is
buried under there once they've
finished with the area.
The streams, the wildlife, everything that was naturally
occurring in that valley is gone now.
And the process of the forest growing back has to start all
over again.
CHRIS HAMILTON: We've been surface
mining for 40, 50 years.
So while we're here mining, if we can reconfigure and reclaim
this land to accommodate that post-mine land use, it's going
to be a win-win for everybody.
They're playing these things off as a win-win, and I'm sure
you've heard this.
You're getting land for things like an airfield or a golf
course or a shopping center that can be built on this
planed land.
WAYNE LANHAM: Show us the shopping centers, or show us
the airports.
You can't show me the first one.
DWIGHT SIEMIACZKO: It's not there.
I don't care what Chris Hamilton or anybody else is
telling you, it's not true.
It is not true.
As far as going back 100 years, there's no way.
There's no way.
DERRICK BECKLES: Let's say 200 to 300?
DWIGHT SIEMIACZKO: 200 to 300 years?
I mean, there's no way.
There's no way, if you don't have topsoil there, it's not
going to grow.
WAYNE LANHAM: If you just go that deep, you're out of the
black dirt.
You're down in the yellow.
Just that deep.
From a distance, it looks like a green pasture.
It's beautiful.
Well, they call it hydroseeding.
You got this big hose, like I sit here now, we can spray it
on those walls.
And it's so lush and green.
DWIGHT SIEMIACZKO: And It would grow on the wall.
You can spray it on us and make it grow.
And we've got grass on steroids, that's
what we call it.
But it's rock right under.
It's a camouflage.
DWIGHT SIEMIACZKO: It's camouflage.

This is hydroseed.
And they spray the mountains with this, and then everything
grows back.
Everything's fine.
It's magical pixie dust.
It feels like mulched toilet paper dyed green.
I mean, there's little seeds in it, I think.
I can't even tell.
It'll look just like it used to, trees and everything.
As you can see, this is top soil, really good topsoil.
And then, once they put this really good topsoil down, you
can come anywhere around here and check it out yourself it's
done with respect and attention to detail, and then
they spray it with green toilet paper.
And everything's back to normal.

So nobody is losing.

It's not exactly surprising to find out that the miners and
the mining companies don't get along.
But to truly understand why and how they don't get along,
you have to go to the miners themselves.

WAYNE LANHAM: I'm Wayne Lanham, retied coal miner,
disabled coal miner, lived here all my life.
I'm 57 years old.
I'm a radical, a redneck.
And that started in this state, you know that?
Because when they had they coal mining wars, you wore a
red bandana around your neck.
That way I could recognize you guys.
Those guys over behind those bushes are union men.
They're on my side.
They're coal miners.
DWIGHT SIEMIACZKO: The coal industry in this state has a
horrible record on human relations.
In this particular watershed here, in 1913 or 1914 there
was a coal strike here.
They was trying to unionize.
HERSHAL WILEY: The county had police there.
The state had state police there.
WAYNE LANHAM: And when they come by Holly Grove, the
people that got kicked out was living in tents, it was tent
city, when they come by they opened up on them with a
machine gun.
Companies did that.
That's why there's such a hard feelings
towards coal companies.
They just came up and shot the people.
DWIGHT SIEMIACZKO: When you are hired, you
signed a quit slip.
You signed a slip that says you quit.
It's not dated.
So when it gets down to the point that you do something
that I don't like as a coal operator, I'd tell you, I'd
say, Wayne, today's your last day.
WAYNE LANHAM: That's right.
DWIGHT SIEMIACZKO: Something wrong?
Yeah, you quit.
Oh no, I didn't quit.
Oh yeah, here's your quit slip.
You signed it.
And you do not have a leg to stand on.
Most people outside of the state and some in the state
don't realize the history.
And it's the same pattern being played over again.

DERRICK BECKLES: At the end of every shift, I noticed that
you could actually hear the mountain powering down and
then powering back up again.
And that's just because coal mining around here is a
24-hour operation.
At the end of the day shift the miners go to their local
watering hole, so we followed them there.
MALE SPEAKER: I love the coal mine because
it's a genuine rush.
You know?
I mean, I brought her back from Florida and I
said, you know what?
I'm going to work in the coal mine, I'm going to
take care of you.
Her job is to take care of my house,
take care of my daughter.
I do everything else.
And I love her for that.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Like, I didn't want to come into this, it
just happened.
I mean, yeah, the money is good, and the money is great.
But the money's not worth nothing but him.
MALE SPEAKER: Being totally honest with you--

MALE SPEAKER: All coal miners deserve $35 an hour or more
because they work their ass off.
And without them the country would fail.
DERRICK BECKLES: So right now, to me, coal mining is a
necessary evil.
It's not the miners that are the ones--
MALE SPEAKER: The miners themselves
aren't the bad ones.
You've met me, you've met him, you've met him.
We're not bad guys.
MALE SPEAKER: With corporate American CEOs and people like
that, they're going to want to make the big dollars, and
we're just tools.
DERRICK BECKLES: If the mines aren't so good, if you've
known this for generations, why don't you just leave and
go somewhere else and get a job somewhere else?
I mean, it's like you graduate from high school and they say,
we'll give you a job making $17 an hour
working in the mines.
You'll have medical, dental, and vision.
Or you can go try to do the college [INAUDIBLE]
or go work at McDonald's, what do you want to do?
You're going to go to the mines.
DERRICK BECKLES: So do you think they're just going to
keep leveling this whole area?
You're damn right they will.
If we let them they'll level this whole place.
You might feel bad about it because you're worried about
the environment, but you're still going to cut the top off
this mountain.
Because hey, I got to eat.
I've got shit I've got to do.

You see that mansion on top of that mountain yonder?
Can you see that through your camera?
DERRICK BECKLES: What we're looking at, at
the top of the hill?
That's a mansion up there?
That's Don Blankenship's.
One of his mansions right there.
Because he is knowingly, I won't say intentionally, but
he is knowingly endangering the lives of every man, woman,
and child in this area for miles, and miles, and miles.
I don't know how he sleeps at night.
DERRICK BECKLES: The symbolism of that, him up there and you
down here, is remarkable.
Just the symbolism of that.
And that he has a bird's eye view potentially watching
everybody down here get washed away.
B. I. SAMMONS: Yep, there's more coal left in these
mountains than has been mined.
He intended to buy all this property up, and he's tried,
and he still intends to do it.
Force it done, if necessary.
To move all the people out of here and then start taking
these mountains down step by step.
I've spent 59 years here, and I'm not going no place unless
he forces me off.
I'll die here.

DERRICK BECKLES: Not bad, huh?

DONNETTA BLANKENSHIP: After I get into talking about Don, I
start getting pretty upset.
So I won't say too much.
What we have a right and especially the kids have right
as much as he does.
You know?
Why does people like that think that they
can, I don't know.

It's like they don't care if they go ahead and kill us.
And let, like my kids who they're 14 and 15 what is
going to happen to them?
CHRIS HAMILTON: We have local residents who have legitimate
concerns, and we have processes and programs in
place to try to deal with those concerns.
And then we have also another portion of our population who
simply do not like mining and would just as soon see it all
be abolished.
DERRICK BECKLES: Who are they anyways?
Who are they?
It doesn't sound like it- Who are [INAUDIBLE]
CHRIS HAMILTON: Well, I saw both in the
committee hearing today.

So we're at the West Virginia legislature.
And this is Subcommittee B. And this hearing is going to
deal with this slurry injection
into the mine shafts.

After coal is mined, there's a lot of leftover rock and
unusable materials as well as chemicals from
the coal mining process.
This stuff's called coal slurry, and it gets pumped
back into the mountain.
It's legal, the mining companies claim it's
regulated, and the citizens whose well water and drinking
water is contaminated claim it's making them sick.
MALE SPEAKER: Basically, what we do is when we permit the
sites themselves, we have a half mile radius where we run
ground water surveys for the permit.
I think I'm confused.
Now, you can't inject within a quarter of a mile of a well or
a municipality, correct?
Well then, I don't know if you were
present at the last meeting.
MALE SPEAKER: No, ma'am.
FEMALE SPEAKER: But we had several people who brought
samples of their water which had huge contaminants in it.
MALE SPEAKER: I think that a lot of people don't understand
that you have to maintain wells like you do your car.
A lot of people just turn on the spigot, and they think
it's going to work for them.
When they have things like iron hydroxide precipitate and
other minerals built up in their wells over the years.
And every time I go out on a well complaint, I tell people
you need to have a friend at the local volunteer fire
department come out and flush your well out
every couple of years.
DWIGHT SIEMIACZKO: Again, they're going to blame it on
somebody else.
They're not going to take the blame.
I mean, just like the far-fetched notion that you're
not cleaning your wells out.
I've never heard of that.
I have never ever heard of that.
WAYNE LANHAM: That guy's an idiot.
You can quote me on that.
Tell him to come on over here too, if he
wants a piece of it.
Those guys make fun of your common
sense, your common sense.
DWIGHT SIEMIACZKO: And where is the toxins coming from?
I mean, if you abuse your well for generations and never had
a problem with your well water, and all of a sudden,
you get toxic metals coming in your well,
where did it come from?
Why wasn't it there 100 years ago?
But it's, kind of, odd that someone nearby you is
injecting into the ground the same thing that's coming in in
your well and your well has been operational for
generations after generations?
And to say you're not cleaning your well out?
B. I. SAMMONS: But you was there, you heard those two
gentlemen from the DEP make the statement that they could
prove that nothing that had been done in the mining
industry had harmed our drinking water.
And it was just a damned outright lie.
They're killing people.
And somebody has to do something to stop it.
DERRICK BECKLES: I'm being naive, I know I am, but how
the protection agencies as opposed to be helping you,
local government, state government, Federal
government, how this just goes on for this long.
It boggles my mind.
B. I. SAMMONS: Politics, politics.
I'm waiting, it's been a year and a half now almost two
years, I'm still waiting on a man that works for the DEP,
he's part of the gas well mining operation in the state
of West Virginia, I'm still waiting for a
call back from him.
DERRICK BECKLES: You've got to be kidding.
B. I. SAMMONS: No, I'm not kidding.
And I've got the number of calls that I called, and who I
called, and who I talked to.
You truly have no idea what goes on around here.
Things I want to say to you, they come to my mind
then I forget it.
But the doctor from New York that called me and told me, he
said, I'm surprised you can talk with as much lead that
you've got in your brain.
DERRICK BECKLES: Could you explain to me how this is
affecting your family, like physically?
B. I. SAMMONS: Brittany, come in here.
Tell me, you went to the doctor today, what did the
doctor say?
B. I. SAMMONS: What did he say about the knot on your cheek?

B. I. SAMMONS: So what do you've got to do?
B. I. SAMMONS: He don't want you to go see nobody else?
What kind of antibiotics did he give you?
B. I. SAMMONS: And I've got a little boy,
he's nine years old.
From the time he was a child, he's been on antibiotics more
than half of his life because of this damn water.
And we didn't know what was causing it.

Right there is what I have to take on a daily
basis to stay alive.

Now, that's almost hard to believe.
DERRICK BECKLES: Can I see this please?
B. I. SAMMONS: Yeah.

And I'm not going to be here long, because you cannot live
with that many chemicals in your body.
DERRICK BECKLES: How does that make you feel
saying that out loud.
B. I. SAMMONS: Mister, I'm just telling you the truth.
B. I. SAMMONS: I'm telling you what the doctor told me.
Don't plan on being here long having to take
that kind of medicine.
I've got stacks of these tablets.
This is the amount of medicines I take.
And I have to take them.
I don't take them because I want to take them.
I want to be alive for that little boy.
DERRICK BECKLES: This is what they claim isn't happening.
B. I. SAMMONS: Yeah, the DEP and the EPA.
DERRICK BECKLES: The EPA, the mining companies, the
everybody who is living in these areas, everybody who is
not a miner, are claiming this isn't happening.
B. I. SAMMONS: This doesn't happen.
That's right.
DERRICK BECKLES: And that this is your imagination.
What do you think every night before you go to bed?
B. I. SAMMONS: You pray before you go to bed.
And you just ask God to take care of your family.
That's all you can do, because man has done done the damage
to the Earth.
And I don't see how can correct what's been done.
God can handle this.
He will when the right time comes.
He will do what has to be done.