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Washington and Lee University

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Earth Lab: Resources & Consequences

Coal mining in Central Appalachia with Paul Low, Spring Term 2011

Earth Lab is an introductory geology course taught during the Spring Term wherein the emphasis and location of the study area differs from year to year. Most course activity involves outside field work with a series of multi-day to multi-week field trips. The primary goal of this course is an in-depth introduction to a particular region or field of geological study for introductory level science students. This course fulfills W&L's general education requirement for a lab science. The goal of Prof. Low's 2011 Earth Lab course was to introduce students to geologic resources through the field investigation of issues related to: coal- with a particular emphasis on the process of mountain-top removal and valley fill mining that is common in central Appalachia shale gas- with a particular emphasis on the process of hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus formation that underlies much of WV, OH, NY, PA, and parts of VA hydroelectric facilities, aggregate mining, sulfide deposits, and pegmatite deposits. In addition to resources that are commonly extracted within the region, this course discussed issues related to our use of: other conventional hydrocarbons (oil and gas)- with a particular emphasis on the recent Deepwater Horizon Disaster (aka the BP Oil Spill) other unconventional hydrocarbons- tar sands of Athabasca (Canada) and oil shale of the Green River Formation (Western USA). Our field locations included: Bath County Pumped Storage Station (VA), the Coal River Watershed (WV), Kayford Mountain (WV), Mountain Laurel Complex (coal mine) (WV), Clover Power Station (VA), and the Morefield Gem Mine (VA). Additional information at
37°58'39.66"N 81°25'35.54"W


GEOL 105 class hiking in the Kanawha State Forest, WV on the way to sampling a tributary to Davis Creek.