Surface mining methods

  Auger mining recovers coal through the use of a large-diameter drill driven into a coalbed in the side of a surface mine pit. It usually follows contour surface mining, particularly when the overburden is too costly to excavate.
  Area mining is practiced on relatively flat or gently rolling terrain and recovers coal by mining long strips successively; the material excavated from the strip being mined is deposited in the strip pit previously mined.
  Contour mining is practiced when the coal is mined on hillsides. The mining follows the contour of the hillside until the overburden becomes uneconomical to remove. This method creates a shelf, or bench, on the hillside. Several variations of contour mining have been developed to control environmental problems. These methods include slope reduction (overburden is spread so that the angle of the slope on the hillside is reduced), head-of-hollow fill (overburden is placed in narrow V-shaped valleys to control erosion), and block-cut (overburden from current mining is backfilled into a previously mined cut).
  Explosives casting is a technique designed to blast up to 65 percent of the overburden into the mine pit for easier removal. It differs from conventional overburden blasting, which only fractures the overburden before it is removed by excavating equipment.
  Mountaintop mining, sometimes considered a variation of contour mining, refers to the mining of a coalbed that underlies the top of a mountain. The overburden, which is the mountaintop, is completely removed so that all of the coal can be recovered. The overburden material is later replaced in the mined-out area. This method leaves large plateaus of level land.
  Open-pit coal mining is essentially a combination of contour and area mining methods and is used to mine thick, steeply inclined coalbeds. The overburden is removed by power shovels and trucks.
  U.S. Dept. of Energy, Energy Information Administration's Energy Glossary

Energy terms . 2014.

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