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January 30, 2012


Coal occupies a central position in modern human endeavors. Last year over 7000 megatons were mined worldwide. Powerful, yet dirty and dangerous, use of coal is expanding every year, with 2010 witnessing a production increase of 6.8%. Around 70 countries have recoverable reserves, which some estimates claim will last for over a hundred years at current production levels. Mining for coal is one of the world's most dangerous jobs. While deadliest in China, where thousands of miners die annually, the profession is still hazardous in the West and other regions as well. Our mining and use of coal accounts for a variety of environmental hazards, including the production of more CO2 than any other source. Other concerns include acid rain, groundwater contamination, respiratory issues, and the waste products which contain heavy metals. But our lives as lived today rely heavily on the combustible sedimentary rock. Over 40% of the world's electricity is generated by burning coal, more than from any other source. Chances are that a significant percentage of the electricity you're using to read this blog was generated by burning coal. Gathered here are images of coal extraction, transportation, and the impact on environment and society. The first eight photographs are by Getty photographer Daniel Berehulak, who documented the lives of miners in Jaintia Hills, India. -- Lane Turner (48 photos total)

22-year-old Shyam Rai from Nepal makes his way through tunnels inside of a coal mine 300 ft beneath the surface on April 13, 2011 near the village of Latyrke, in the district of Jaintia Hills, India. In the Jaintia hills, located in India's far northeast state of Meghalaya, miners descend to great depths on slippery, rickety wooden ladders. Children and adults squeeze into rat hole like tunnels in thousands of privately owned and unregulated mines, extracting coal with their hands or primitive tools and no safety equipment. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

A crane lifts miners out of a 300ft deep mine shaft as they head out for their lunch break on April 13, 2011 in Jaintia Hills, India. Workers can earn as much as 150 USD per week or 30,000 Rupees per month, significantly higher than the national average of 15 USD per day. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

38-year-old Prabhat Sinha carries a load of coal weighing 60kgs, supported by a head-strap, as he ascends the staircase of a coal mine on April 16, 2011 in Jaintia Hills, India. After traversing treacherous mountain roads, the coal is delivered to neighboring Bangladesh and to Assam from where it is distributed all over India, to be used primarily for power generation and as a source of fuel in cement plants. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

20-year-old Anil Basnet sits for a portrait above the coal mine where he works on April 13, 2011 in Jiantia Hills, India. Many workers leave homes in neighboring states, and countries, like Bangladesh and Nepal, hoping to escape poverty and improve their quality of life. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

20-year-old Anil Basnet pushes a coal cart, as he and a fellow worker pull coal out from the rat hole tunnel 300 ft below the surface on April 13, 2011 in Jaintia Hills, India. Some miners send money back to loved ones at home, whilst many others squander their earnings on alcohol, drugs and prostitution in the dusty, coal mining towns like Lad Rymbai. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

A boy works at a coal depot on April 16, 2011 in Jaintia Hills, India. Some of the labor is forced, and an Indian NGO group, Impulse, estimates that 5,000 privately-owned coal mines in Jaintia Hills employed some 70,000 child miners. The government of Meghalaya refuted this figure, claiming that the mines had only 222 minor workers. Despite the ever present dangers and hardships, children, migrants and locals flock to the mines hoping to strike it rich in India's wild east. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

School children walk through a coal depot on their way home from school on April 14, 2011 in Jaintia Hills, India. Local schools in the area, providing free tuition, find it difficult to convince parents of the benefits of education, as children are seen as sources of income. The lure of the mines is stronger than that of the classroom. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

Thirteen-year-old student Kala Rai attends an English grammar class at the Biateraim Presbyterian school on April 15, 2011 in Jaintia Hills, India. Kala worked in the mines for 6 months from the age of 12. Teachers from the school convinced her parents to stop her working in the mines and to send her to school. Kala aspires to be a doctor to treat the ailments of her family and friends. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

Heavy machinery works in the distance at the Kedrovsky open pit coal mine, operated by OAO Kuzbassrazrezugol near Kemerovo, Russia on March 31, 2011. OAO Kuzbassrazrezugol is Russia's second largest coal producer. (Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg) #

Smoke billows from the chimneys of a coal-burning power plant in Ulan Bator, Mongolia on October 14, 2011. Ulan Bator's pollution is seasonal, with relatively low amounts in summer, but critical levels in the depths of winter when the PM10s can reach 2000 micrograms per cubic meter in the worst affected areas. The 10 most polluted cities on the planet are all in emerging-market or developing countries: Iran, Pakistan, India, Botswana and Mongolia. (Carlos Barria/Reuters) #

A rescuer rests during a break at Sukhodolskaya-Vostochnaya coal mine in Ukraine on July 29, 2011. Eighteen miners died and another 20 went missing after an explosion in the coal mine known to be dangerous due to large methane build-ups. (Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images) #

Nooreen Hayat, 7, holds her tools after finishing her work of breaking coal in a brick factory on the outskirts of Islamabad on February 1, 2011. (Muhammed Muheisen/AP) #

Jimmy Murphy of Sprigg, W.Va. holds a jar filled with well water from his home on November 15, 2010. He says the water was contaminated with coal slurry by Massey Energy and subsidiary Rawl Sales & Processing. Mining company Massey Energy settled a 7-year-old lawsuit with hundreds of southern West Virginia residents who claim the company poisoned their drinking water supplies with coal slurry. (Jeff Gentner/AP) #

A man walks past a coal plant amidst a dust storm in Lingwu, in China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region March 29, 2011. (Stringer/Reuters) #

A Bosnian man rides his bicycle in a foggy street in Sarajevo on January 19, 2011. Traffic pollution and the burning of low-quality coal for heating caused clouds of air pollution during days of unusually warm weather for the month of January. (Elvis Barukcic/AFP/Getty Images) #

Workers of the Auguste Victoria coal mine make their way to work underground in Marl, Germany on June 28, 2011. 3,700 workers mine three millions tons of coal per year there. (Ina Fassbender/Reuters) #

Family members grieve as they wait for news of the fate of trapped miners in Heshan, China on July 3, 2011. Heavy rains hampered efforts to reach more than 40 workers trapped in a colliery which collapsed due to torrential downpours pummelling the area. (STR/AFP/Getty Images) #

Workers pick out the gravel from lumps of coal at a coal mine in Huaibei, China on December 15, 2011. (Stringer/Reuters) #

Steam and other emissions rise from a coal-fired power station near Lithgow, Australia on July 7, 2011. A new carbon tax will see Australia's 500 heaviest polluters pay A$23 for every ton of carbon emissions. (Daniel Munoz/Reuters) #

A survivor trapped for more than 180 hours in a collapsed coal mine receives medical treatment at a hospital in Heshan, China on July 10, 2011. (China Daily/Reuters) #

Coal moves on a conveyor belt at the PT Bukit Asam open pit coal mine in Tanjung Enim, Indonesia on July 7, 2011. (Dadang Tri/Bloomberg) #

A coal worker poses for a portrait in Shanxi Province, China on March 24, 2011. China is by far the largest producer and consumer of coal in the world. (Nelson Ching/Bloomberg) #

Relatives comfort each other during the funeral of a miner killed in a mine blast, in Makiyivka, Ukraine on July 31, 2011. Eleven miners were killed in the accident at the Bazhanova pit in the town of Makiyivka in the Donetsk region where a concrete mine headframe collapsed. Ukraine held a day of mourning July 31 for 37 miners killed in two separate accidents in coal pits in the country's eastern industrial district as the last bodies were pulled from the rubble. (Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images) #

A couple nap under an umbrella at an open-air dumpsite of a coal mine on the outskirts of Fushun, China on August 21, 2011. (Stringer/Reuters) #

Rescuers carry a survivor out of a flooded pit at Hengtai Coal Mine in Qitaihe, China on August 30, 2011. (China Daily/Reuters) #

Miners prepare to travel to work in the Vorgashorskaya coal mine in Vorkuta, Russia on August 30, 2011. Vorkuta is one of Russia's largest coal producing regions. (Eduard Korniyenko/Reuters) #

A truck holds 447 tons of coal at Peabody Energy’s North Antelope Rochelle coal mine, north of Douglas, Wyo. Guiness World Records recently awarded the body’s manufacturer a certificate for its custom-built unit designed for a Wyoming mine. (Westech/Casper Star-Tribune/AP) #

Railway workers push a wagon loaded with coal back to its track after it derailed at Sabarmati power house in Ahmedabad, India on September 7, 2011. Four people were injured after six wagons of a goods train carrying coal got derailed due to heavy rains. (Amit Dave/Reuters) #

Two mine rescue workers leave the Rhos community center as emergency services and rescue specialists continue the operation to rescue four Welsh miners that were trapped 300ft underground after a coal mine tunnel collapsed and flooded near the village of Cilybebyll, Wales on September 16. All four died. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images) #

An excavator works in an open-cast lignite mine on September 28, 2011 in Belchatow, Poland. (Darek Redos/AFP/Getty Images) #

Afghans wait for bodies of miners out side of a coal mine in Narin, Afghanistan on December 24, 2011. An Afghan official said 11 miners died. (Javid Basharat/Associated Press) #

Residents transport illegally mined coal by bicycle in Mong Duong ward in Vietnam's Quang Ninh province on September 16, 2011. (Kham/Reuters) #

A crew member of the submerged ship MV Rak Carrier is winched into a Seaking helicopter off the coast of Mumbai on August 4, 2011. The Panama-flagged MV Rak Carrier, transporting 60,000 tons of coal from Indonesia to India, sank off the coast of Mumbai after its crew were rescued when it began taking on water in stormy seas. (Indian Ministry of Defense/HO/AFP/Getty Images) #

A young woman stumbles as she tries to carry a large basket of coal as they illegally scavenge at an open-cast mine in the village of Bokapahari, India, where a community of coal scavengers live and work. The contrast between India old and new is nowhere more vivid than among the villages of coal scavengers in eastern India, sitting on an apocalyptic landscape of smoke and fire from decades-old underground coal fires. While India grows ever more middle-class and awash in creature comforts, these villagers risk their lives scavenging coal illegally for a few dollars a day, and come back to homes that at any moment could be swallowed by a fresh fire-induced crack in the earth. (Kevin Frayer/AP) #

Locals face riot police while blocking a highway in Haimen, China on December 22, 2011 during a protest against a plan to build a coal-fired power plant. Thousands of angry residents in the town surrounded a government building and blocked an expressway, and online accounts of the incident claimed two people had died. (David Gray/Reuters) #

A miner works in the extraction gallery 900 meters underground in the Budryk Coal Mine in Ornontowice, Poland on June 22, 2011. (Peter Andrews/Reuters)#

Big coal companies are buying out small mining towns along Route 26 in West Virginia, a highway linking Bandytown, Twilight, and Lindytown. High above Route 26 the coal companies are in the process of mountaintop removal mining. Lifelong resident of Lindytown Leo Cook, 75, drove along Route 26 reminiscing about his childhood and pointing out all that is gone. (Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)#

Workers carry the body of a colleague on a stretcher during a rescue operation at a coal mine on the outskirts of Quetta, Pakistan on October 13, 2011. Five mine workers were killed when a gas explosion occurred in a coal mine in southwestern Pakistan. (Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images) #

A laborer (right) at a coal dump site cleans his face after washing in the early morning hours outside Kabul October 18, 2011. Each laborer earns $10 on an average working day. Most of them come from the northern provinces, leaving their families behind in search of fortune in the capital. (Ahmad Masood/Reuters) #

The front end of a continuous miner, which spares miners a long walk into and out of the mine on a steep grade at the Allen Mine, sits idle on September 26, 2011, near Trinidad, Colo. (Mark Reis/The Colorado Springs Gazette/AP) #

Greenpeace activists hang from a crane inside Eskom's Kusile power plant in the Delmas municipal area of South Africa with banners reading 'Kusile: Climate Killer' on November 7, 2011. Greenpeace is calling on the state owned utility ESKOM to abandon the Kusile coal fired power plant, which is set to become world's fourth most polluting power plant in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and to instead invest in both green energy sources and jobs. Shayne Robinson/Greenpeace Handout/AFP/Getty Images) #

Relatives identify bodies of killed miners at the Sizhuang Coal Mine after a gas leak in Shizong county in China's Yunnan province on November 11, 2011. Hundreds of rescuers took turns descending into the illegally operated coal mine to search for miners trapped by a gas leak in the country's second deadly mining accident in less than a week. (AP)#

The father of a missing miner grieves at a coal mine where seven miners were missing after a flooding accident November 14, 2011 in Jingtai county in China's Gansu province. (AP)#

High-voltage power lines frame a coal power plant in Nierderaussem, Germany on November 9, 2011. (Ina Fassbender/Reuters)#

Supporters of Catholic nun Sister Valsa John participate in a candlelight vigil demanding an inquiry into her murder in New Delhi on November 22, 2011. She was hacked to death in Jharkhand, and had been threatened by coal mine bosses for defending the rights of local tribespeople. Jharkhand police said around 50 men barged into the house where she was staying, and her mutilated body was found by police. (Tsering Topgyal/AP)#

A protester with Earth Quaker Action Team is arrested after refusing to leave the lobby of the PNC bank regional headquarters building in Philadelphia on December 6, 2011. The group is protesting PNC's investment in mountaintop coal removal. (Matt Rourke/AP)#

A group of Bosnians transport coal for heating in horse-drawn carts near Sarajevo on January 9, 2012. The average unemployment rate is up to 42 percent, according to the Bosnian government. Collecting coal by hand and selling it on a local market is the only way an impoverished category of the Bosnian population can survive the winter. (Amel Emric/Associated Press)#

A child sifts the usable residue from the ashes of coal used at a brick factory during the cold days of a harsh winter in Surkhroad, Afghanistan on January 30, 2012. (Rahmat Gul/Associated Press)#