Archive for coal

Air

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.

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Coal

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.

Water

Posted in Hopi with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2010 by brettvanort

Anyone for 18 before I want to melt in the sun?

Water in the desert southwest.  There has always been little to begin with.  Now there is more but also there is less.  Some of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century created a foundation for the establishment of Phoenix, AZ, Las Vegas, NV, Los Angeles, CA and countless other smaller towns and cities in a region that should by all means be relatively uninhabited.

Page, Arizona, the leaping off point for recreation galore.  Nearby is the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area where Lake Powell is located.  80 miles from the heart of Hopi by the way the crow flies are golf, water skiing, boating, and boozing.

The dam that creates Lake Powell.

Most of these leisure activities exist because of the dam that was created in 1966.  The Colorado river is held here to generate 3.2 billion kilowatt hours of energy per year.  There are ultimate failings with the dam though, and not only because of the water being held back to the Colorado and Little Colorado that run through Navajo and Hopi territory to the south.

The dam has a large amount of risk associated with it, most notably the build up of silt and sediment from the Navajo sandstone that ring the reservoir and line the cliffs that the Colorado has carved over the millenium.  The silt and sediment slowly fills Lake Powell, reducing its capacity.  The lifespan of the dam at this point is by some estimated at 85 to 100 years at which point the breaching of the dam would cause a megatsunami downstream that would crest Hoover dam by over 200 feet.  Because of these risks associated with the dam and the resulting Lake Powell the project was termed “America’s most regretted environmental mistake,” at its completion by the then executive director of the Sierra Club David Brower.

Navajo Generating Station

A few miles outside of Page is another power plant that uses the water from Lake Powell to cool its turbines which allow it to function in the midst of a desert.  The Navajo Generating Station produces 16.5 billion KW per year and releases 19.9 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year.  The energy produced by the plant serves over 3 million homes every year in the desert southwest.  The plant also employs nearly 600 Navajo workers when you combine the efforts of those at the Keynata Mine where the coal is mined for use at the plant.  Because of this and the lack well paid jobs in Navajo country, the plant and mine are a slippery slope for those in the Native community to talk about.  In one respect it produces high paid, skilled jobs.  But in another it is digging into the heart of country that to many Native Americans in the region consider sacred.  Talking to Native Americans about this is virtually impossible as an outsider.  On so many occasions I was told that this issue and others involving mining  or energy production are “very sensitive” to the Hopi.

The Navajo Generating Station at Dawn. Navajo Mountain can be seen to the left of the smokstacks, seemingly emerging from the cooling towers.

The Navajo plant began producing power in 1975.  As part of its development the plant required the construction and hanging of nearly 800 miles of 500 kilovolt lines so generated power could reach its intended target of Phoenix, Ariz0na.  Also interesting is how the turbines at Navajo are cooled.  As Lake Powell is a reservoir in a sense without a flow or current to it, the Navajo plant does not expel its waste water back into the body it originated from like most plants situated on a river or coastline.  When this usually happens it will raise the water temperature of that body of water.  In some cases, on the Hudson river, during summer time when flows are lower,  the temperature will raise 24ºF or 13ºC in the vicinity of the plants and down river from them.  How this impacts the ecosystem in that vicinity is hardly seen as it mostly occurs underwater.  But imagine the effect is has on fish and other wildlife in the area.  The Navajo plant, on the other hand, uses cooling towers to disapate the heat generated but in doing so about 30,000 acre feet of water per year evaporates in an area where water is already precious and to the Hopi, considered sacred.

Tomorrow, I’ll look at the mine on Black Mesa.  To both the Hopi and Navajo a place considered sacred.

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