Archive for coal mine


Posted in Hopi with tags , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2010 by brettvanort

It was a first.  A single engine light aircraft photography flight.  I was insanely nervous.  I’d been up in helicopters to do this before but nothing quite like this, there was no hovering or stopping allowed.  I was in a single engine light aircraft that would do no less than 100 knots.  I had a hole in the cockpit the size of a grapefruit to stick the lens out.  I learned quickly what I could and could not do.  I was given a headset and told to direct my pilot Hal to wherever I wanted to go above the Hopi range and the Black Mesa coal mine.  Our round trip flight would be roughly two hours.  I had our first tentative day scrubbed by low lingering cloud cover.  On our second attempt, a week later, we managed to have a beautiful start to the day.  We got off the ground a little later than I wanted but I still had some nice low light to work with for much of the shoot.

The size of the mine was hard to capture.

My first attempt to put my 70-200 with a 2x outside the window and my lens slammed into the side of the window due to wind drag.  I had to contend with not only the wind but the wing of the aircraft as well.  I was hoping for a Cessna style craft with the wing coming out from the top of the aircraft and yet here I was having to shoot around the wing which on this aircraft protruded from underneath the fuselage.  Whenever I wanted to photograph something it involved coordinating with the pilot to execute a steep turn that would enable the wing to dip out of my frame.

Two large strips in the earth.

Once I got past fighting the wind and the wing I had to figure out how to shoot from the air.  The different perspective posed its problems as well.  In some ways it was similar to shooting on the ground though.  I was surprised that I needed my 24-70 and even my 16-35 in some cases.  I envisioned myself only using my telephoto zoom but it barely made it out of my bag.  In retrospect I was photographing something massive: the largest strip coal mine in the U.S., so why or what would I need to be taking closeups of?  I thought that at 2000 to 3000 feet in altitude I would need to be tighter than normal.  In some respects yes, but ultimately to give what I was photographing perspective, I needed the horizon, and that kept me from using long lenses.

One time my 200mm actually gave some perspective

But in the above photo I was still able to use my 200mm lens and still achieve a sense of scale.  You can obviously see the large crane with Peabody’s name emblazoned on the side, but did you manage to see the “normal” sized front end loader in the bottom left of frame?  That should tell you about how big these massive cranes are.  Supposedly they are constructed on-site as they are so big there is no way to transport them.



Posted in Hopi with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2010 by brettvanort

My first trip to Black Mesa was on the ground.  I knew I would be able to view it from the air but I wanted to see what kind of access I could have on the ground.  This mine is also known as Kayenta, there is a town nearby with the same name.  Peabody Coal Company began strip mine operations in 1968.  It is the largest strip mine in the United States.  It was shut for several years from 2006 to 2008 because of depletion of the water table underneath the mesa, but mining resumed as in the last days of the Bush administration and ordinance was passed to allow for the reopening of one of the two strip mines.  These mines feed the Navajo Plant in Page, which I recently showed work from on the blog, and the now shut Mohave Plant in Laughlin, NV.

An even safer mine might be shut?

The Mohave Plant required the construction of a 273 mile slurry pipeline so coal could be shipped to the plant.  Pulverized Coal would be mixed with water to make slurry which would then in turn be shipped to the plant.  Upon receiving the slurry the coal is filtered from the water out and disposed of.  There is no way for the slurried coal water to be reclaimed or reused.  It is waste and disposed of as such.  Now that the Mohave plant has shut the amount of water usage has decreased but as with an energy production, much with agricultural production, water is the lifeline.  So with the re-opening of the plant the water is again being used and the aquifer depleted.

Here a conveyor starts the shipment of mined coal to a location off the mesa.

The complete closure of the mine would stop the depletion of the water table but it would also put anywhere from 600 to 800 Navajo out of work in a region where there are hardly any well-paid, skilled jobs.  Because of this the mine is a contentious issue.

The terminus of the coal conveyor near Federal Highway 160

The coal conveyor above still operates and ships coal to the coal silo where coal is stored.  It is now shipped via Railroad to the Navajo plant in Page, NV.  In the next few days I’ll post some of what I saw from the air.  What is supposed to be a “small” operation that supports only the Navajo Plant looked to my eyes to be large, expansive and larger than expected.

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