Document Type



The effects of mountaintop removal valley fill coal mining are wide reaching and, proportional to their environmental impact, poorly understood. The lack of scientific understanding of the unique geologic setting created by the mountaintop removal valley fill mining, or MTM/VF process, is born from a combination of its confined geographic area and young age. This paper aims to synthesize the existing understanding of the hydrological, geochemical, and geomorphological consequences of MTM/VF, lay out the most probable routes of future inquiry, and divine the future of the extraction method itself. Current research indicates that VFs are structurally unsound in the long term, fundamentally alter local groundwater behavior, and dramatically accelerate the release rates of dissolved solids from local bedrock. Furthermore, mined watersheds are primed to undergo mass wasting during and in the immediate aftermath of storm events at far greater rates than unmined equivalents. This stands in stark contrast to the previous regulatory understanding of VF structure and the behavior of mine spoil evolution in surface mined environments. Dedicated MTM/VF geologic research has only picked up steam in the last decade but has laid the groundwork for extensive hydrological surveying and modeling of the region in the future as computing power grows and becomes cheaper to wield to better understand the intermittent pseudokarst hydrology of the VFs themselves. MTM/VF is not threatened by environmental regulation or declining profits, but rather by the encroachment of cheaper alternatives to provide power to the global energy market, be they zero emission alternatives or the direct competitor to Appalachian coal, Wyoming coal.

Date Awarded

Spring 2022



Advisor 1

Brent Owens