Archive for coal

Centralia Websites

Posted in In Pennsylvania with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2011 by Mj Rains

For those of you who haven’t heard of this abandoned town in Pennsylvania, here’s a quick rundown of its story. First and foremost, for those of you who also don’t know this, I am not a promoter of coal mining, clean coal, or any of that other bullshit we are hit with saying that coal is the alternative energy source we are looking for.  My dear grandfather was a miner for most of his life here in America, and he died from black lung, a disease from breathing in coal dust that literally makes your lungs turn black. I realize that now, though I’m not sure, regulations and protections of miners may be more advanced, but I’m still not a supporter. And this small town in PA, once thriving and simple and pretty is an example of the greed, and just general stupidity when it comes to coal in this region of the world.

Centralia is best known for the fire that is still burning underground since 1962. It all started when someone got the bright idea to create a pit to burn garbage. The garbage fire burnt through the ground eventually, igniting a large vein of coal that was underneath, a common thing in this coal rich area of the world. Eventually this doomed the town, for the coal continued to burn beneath the surface, causing hot spots, smoke and steam rising. The local people thought the fire was a problem, but did not realize the magnitude of what would happen. Although steps were taken to extinguish the fire, and for a short time was thought to be a success, the fire continued to burn through the vein, under the town and some of the outlying area.

In 1982, two decades after the fire started a boy fell though a sink-hole and was pulled to safety quickly. This was a tragic awakening for the town and drew attention of the state government who decided to consider “shutting down” the town of Centralia. Throughout the next decade over $3.3 million was spent trying to control the fire. The Office of Surface Mining estimated that it would cost much more to do the job, like $663 million to put the blaze out entirely. Instead PA spent $42 million dollars to buy out and relocate most of the residents of Centralia. More than 1,000 residents were relocated and 500 homes were destroyed. The population today stands at 10.  And these 10 people are fighting. You see, they don’t want to leave their homes which they’ve lived in for decades, nor have they experienced any bad health effects from living in this coal fire region. These residents have formed their own plan to take back the condemned town, which has now been officially taken off the map, no area codes, zip codes, etc.

Centralia in 2006. photo: Daniel Shumaker

This core group of residents have maintained that the fire is all but completely out. They have done their own studies, and their own law suit, saying that the area is safe to live in. There seems to be no smoke coming out of the ground. They contend that the fire has either burned itself out or has moved away. The thing is, there may have been some alternative reasons why the state did not go forth with getting this fire completely under control. It is estimated that the coal vein beneath the ground where the fire start would be worth over a billion dollars if mined, and a coal company had shown interest in purchasing the land once the residents of Centralia cleared out. So you see, people homes are less important than this filthy source of energy, one that made coal barons in PA at the turn of the century some of the richest people in the world. If the government is masking these ulterior motives and wishes to claim rights to the thousands of acres of coal so that it can be sold for an inestimable amount of money, well, we truly live in greed-filled times.

Centralia in 2008, looking pretty green…though abandoned….
photo: Donald Davis

In May of 2010, the last residents fought to keep their homes after an eviction notice was given by Governor at the time, Ed Rendell. The Centralia zip code was officially revoked, and a state appeals court told the group he had no jurisdiction to hear arguments for the residents to stay. As a last ditch effort, the people plan a federal lawsuit, and the Supreme Court may be asked to review the claims and intervene.

There is a church that remains in Centralia, in which priests outside the area come each Sunday to hold mass; St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church.  It is one of the few public buildings still standing in Centralia.  A 100th anniversary of the church is planned for later this year, and I’ve read that the plan after that is to tear it down.

For this incredible story and well-presented information and photos on Centralia visit Carolyn Marteinssen’s website at

For more information and images of Centralia, visit

Article source: Burning Down the House by Rich Pietras for dtown Magazine (Doylestown PA.)

More Dead in West Virginia

Posted in Current events with tags , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2010 by Mj Rains

If you know me and follow this blog, you know I have a strong dislike for coal mining, mining technology, and the myth of “clean coal” that is shoved down our throats regularly.  The saddest news today comes yet again from West Virginia where 25 mine workers lost their lives in an explosion in an underground mine funded by the prolific WV company Massey.  This company has a history of violations for lack of proper ventilation of methane gas in 1000 foot deep mines.  Since 1998 there have been three deaths linked with this mining company.  At what price are we going to stay in the dark coal ages?  How many people should we sacrifice…how much land?  I do understand that people have to make a living, and may have no other choice but to work in mines for income.  My grandfather did this for many, many years, and suffered terribly at the end of his life with black lung, a result of inhaling coal dust all those years.   Though mining is much safer now than it was back then, I’d truly like to believe this, I still wonder what price  we will be paying in other ways for our lack of finding better energy solutions.

Two weeks ago I posted a story about Maria Gunnoe, a woman fighting the very same Massey company for their regular destruction of the Appalachia Mountains near and around her home.  I’m sure she is on her toes with this event, drawing more attention to what is adding up to be one of the worst mining accidents in many years.  Four men are still unaccounted for.  There is a slim hope they have survived, in an air-tight chamber somewhere deep in belly of this earth.

A few years ago, with my daughter’s class, we visited a local mine which is now a huge anthracite museum.  This was around the time China had that devastating accident a few years back that killed 350 miners.  Today, China has to deal with another dark ages accident, with 150 or so workers missing in another mine collapse from flooding.  In any case, this field trip broke this miner’s granddaughter’s heart.  To go down so deep into the darkness, to see the wax figures of these men working, to see the donkeys that pulled the carts of coal who never say daylight, ever, but lived their entire animal lives underground, and to see the young boys who held the door controls, or sorted the coal…truly a sad way to make a living all those years ago.  I know times have changed….it still haunts me.

I hope the families of these poor hard-working men find peace…Our Easter season prayers go out to them all…and I hope Massey and any other coal company will re-evaluate their regulations and make good changes for all….and for this planet.

But mostly, I hope we find better solutions for energy…this is not the answer…coal is never “clean”….and today it is truly deadly.

Silence is not an option…

Posted in Current events with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2010 by Mj Rains

A billboard on roadside near Charleston, West Virginia reads:  Yes, Coal. Clean Carbon Neutral Coal.  But in the yard of a petite 41 year old woman you can see a sign that says: Yes, Wind.

For 12 years, West Virginian Maria Gunnoe has been waging her own battle to end mountain removal, “a process by which the tops of mountains are blasted off so miners can get at seams of coal” that cannot be reached through underground mining.  In this process, the coal companies dump tons of rock and vegetation into valleys near by, which often destroy streams, animal and water habitats and create violations of the Clean Water Act.

“More than 500 peaks across Appalachia have been seared off so far.”   The companies claim reclamation to the land, replanting indigenous trees which seldom root and usually die off, leaving what was once a majestic line of mountain a mere hill of green grasses and undergrowth as a result of their “fix the damage” efforts (my words here).

Maria Gunnoe, a granddaughter of a Cherokee, is a brave soul, one of the few residents of Boone County, West Virginia who refuse to give up despite the ravaged land literally in her back yard.  Her activism and outspokenness awarded her the 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize.  All for not keeping silent; for not shutting up.  And this despite death threats, sand in the gas tank of her truck, the deaths of family pets, and strange gun shots behind her house right before she was to testify before a court.  The threats come from local mine workers, whose only form of income is the work done on the mountains in the area.”I’d like to think they were better shots if they meant to hit me,” she says wryly. “They’re trying to scare me.”  Still, for a few years she wore a bullet proof vest when she ventured outside.  I cannot imagine.

Her activism started years before this with a long-smoldering underground mine fire that came to the surface near her home town of Bob White.  She joined OVEC, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. She learned more.  When Mountain top mining came to Bob White in 2000, she set out to learn what it was all about.  The rumble of explosions on the mountain behind her house created layers of gray dust which coated everything in her house and caused nose bleeds.  Then her crystal clear water started to corrode the faucets and had “this foul smell.”  After the familiar mountain peak disappeared, raging flood waters gouged her land, creating a 70 wide trench across her property and washing out two bridges that let to her home. “We had to hike in for seven years,” she recounts. Still, none of this was blamed on the mining but officials said that extreme rainfall was the cause.

This further fueled her activism as she continued to badger regulatory agencies to enforce inspections, recheck dumping permits.  The Obama administration has promised to review changes the Bush administration made to the Clean Water Act–changes that allowed coal companies to dump mine debris into streams.  Valley fill permits are no longer being rubber-stamped by the Army Corps of Engineers and EPA.

Meanwhile, Maria Gunnoe gets in her Jeep and keeps patrol of her mountains.  Despite a now camouflage colored house and a chain link fence around her yard, she stays on.  Her first grandchild is due soon, and her son, who is in the Navy and will be on duty, is building a new home for his family on the land his mother refuses to abandon.  Despite the threats, she’s taught her children to stand up for what is right, to stand up for what you believe in, to take on the “big” companies, and to not let the bastards drag you down.

For Gunnoe, silence is certainly not an option.

Maria, Hobit Mine

Read  Maria Gunnoe’s fascinating story online at or pick up a hard copy of the article in More magazine, April 2010 on store shelves now.  Maria Gunnoe’s Coal Country Crusade by Tamara Jones.  All italic quotes above are from this source.

The “Abandonment” of Centralia

Posted in In Pennsylvania with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2010 by Mj Rains

This town is not completely abandoned…not yet anyway.  And the few holding out may have a deep case of strong will, the will for what may be right.

For those unfamiliar with a town called Centralia in Pennsylvania it has a curious and heartbreaking history.  This once flourishing small town of American was pretty much wiped off the map by an underground mine fire.  This fire began in 1962 when someone set a dump on fire…which was not for some reason put out, and it subsequently spread into the network of coal mine tunnels that ran beneath the town.  Dangerous sinkholes and poisonous gases threatened the residents ability to live in the town. A relocation program was launched by the government, costing over $42 million and seemed to be complete by 1993.  But a few people held out, disregarding the eminent domain order.  And a few hold-outs are still there.  There may be more to this sad loss of a town than meets the eye. 

“Centralians have long believed the government’s demolition of their beloved town in the 1980s was part of a plot to swipe the mineral rights to anthracite coal worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” says this quote from Associated Press Writer Michael Rubinkam in a recent article.  The residents believe that the fire which started all those years ago was perhaps intentionally let go, with the results of today’s abandonment the justified plan for the state to take over the land rights as well as the mineral rights below the land for the potential money involved.  As of right now it is not clear who has the mineral rights.

Centralia - Then and Now

But a last-ditch effort has been launched by the few remaining residents, taking these conspiracy claims to court.  They claim that there are no gases leaking from the fire and they claim to have evidence which proves that it is “almost out” and is no longer a danger to themselves nor their homes.  Court documents state from the Department of Environment Protection  study of 2008 that toxic gases are no longer a problem for residents.  They also found the temperatures have gone down measurably.

These home owners do not want to leave their life-long homes and are making this last plea to be left alone.  “There is no mine fire or other related condition that justifies the taking of their property,” a petition said.   Still,  state officials insist that the fire remains a threat to health.

If this is a massive fraud to perpetuate the taking of homes and land that once was flourishing, all for the mining of a mineral that we should just well enough leave alone, it is a travesty of the human condition and thoughtlessness of greed which surrounds our government systems.  There is no question: something happened here.  A tragic fire started and was perhaps left go…more than 1000 people were relocated and 500 homes were destroyed.  Do these last survivors have a right to the dignified claims to their homes?

Once Centralia ceases to exist, the state could sell the mineral rights to a coal company and thus produce even more senseless strip mining in this country, the dangers of which are staggering.  With all this “clean coal” propaganda floating about, a bunch of bullshit if you ask me, Centralia could become “one of the most productive strip mine operations in the country.”  I’m praying  for the last residents. I hope they win.

Source: Centralia Residents Claim ‘Fraud’ -Times Leader- Michael Rubinkam, AP – 3/10/2010

Don’t You Just ‘Luv’ this Clean Coal?

Posted in Esoteric with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2009 by Mj Rains

First and foremost, The Wit Continuum would just like to state clearly that she believes there is no such thing as “clean coal”.  THEY may try to sell you this bullshit, but let’s be clear, there are emmissions no matter what they say they can do with it.  From someone who lived in a coal region for some time, I can testify to this.  (Plus, had a sweet grandfather who died from black lung.  He was a coal miner for 26 years.  It was not a nice way to go.)

So after that rant, I move on to some interesting finds thanks to once again I have found two curious places, and one is quite a bit spooky.  Here are some abandoned cities of our world–due to the coal mining industry.  Think of these places if you are a  supporter…


The abandoned town of Centralia, Pennsylvania…

“No list of abandoned cities and deserted town can be complete without some discussion of one of the strangest and most infamous example: Centralia.  This once-thriving town had a mine fire decades ago…but it never went out.   Warning signs that something was still wrong included: smoking highways, heated underwater gas tanks and person-swallowing sink holes.  Over time most of the town’s residents have moved on though a few insist on staying despite the slowly-speading and still-burning fire that creeps below.”


“Another coal-related abandonment is Hashima, one of Japans deserted island.  It was once a thriving coal-mining city with workers crammed into high rises on narrow streets, but a drop in coal production shut it down.  The structures stand, hazardous though they look, and talk of making it a tourist attraction is in the works.  Presently, only boat views are allowed.”

Count this Weburbanist fan out.


POST Update:  Please check out David Dekok’s book on the Centralia mine fire, called Fire Underground at

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