June 2010 - Coal Mining in Otter Creek, MT

Jun 29, 2010

Day 3 of the supposedly spring (been raining and snowing for days) month of June in the earth calendar year 2010.


tongue river MT

Tongue River, Montana. (c) Jane Pargiter, EcoFlight 2010.


Another cloudy and stormy day with thunderstorms moving in and out of our projected flight path. Up in beautiful Montana working on various issues including National Trails Day and the Great Outdoors campaign.

While up in these parts we were asked to do a photographic mission over Otter Creek in southeastern Montana. Flying over the famous Custer battlefield, we reached the Otter Creek area. Located near the Tongue River, a tributary of the Yellowstone River, farmland and prairies and wild untouched country still abound. There are plentiful numbers of trophy-quality whitetail and mule deer, growing herds of prairie elk and 250 species of birds in the Tongue River valley, including 137 species of songbirds. The Otter Creek area has historically been inhabited by several Native American tribes, including the Northern Cheyenne and Crow. Rock art, tipi rings and petroglyphs have been found and some rock landforms are considered sacred sites.

In March 2010, the state of Montana leased 572 million tons of coal for strip mining at Otter Creek to Arch Coal, the nation's second largest coal producer. Together with other coal leases amassed in the area, the proposed Otter Creek Mine could become one of the largest strip mines in North America. When burned, the coal would emit at least 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

The Northern Plains Resource Council asked us to help photograph the currently serene and relatively untouched region of Otter Creek and then fly south and photograph the Black Thunder Coal Mine, to juxtapose the two areas and bring to life the real threats that are facing the Otter Creek area. The Black Thunder Coal Mine is the second most productive mine in the U.S. It's dragline excavator is the biggest in the world and cranks out enough coal to load up to 25 miles of railroad cars per day.

Videographer and native resident Dawson Dunning joined us on the flight. As a member of the Northern Plains Resource Council and a fifth generation ranching family, Dawson represents a growing number of neighbors and local residents who are opposed to a huge coal plant smack dab in the middle of Otter Creek, and a proposed Tongue River railroad which would have to be built to ship coal from isolated Otter Creek to markets in the Midwest and the Pacific Coast.

Our good friend, professional photographer and EcoFlight member from Bozeman, Tim Crawford, was not able to accompany us, but our own Janey Pargiter along with Dawson provided excellent images of the developed, (Black Thunder Coal Mine) versus the undeveloped, (serene Otter Creek) which will be utilized to provide more information and documentation to help the local populace decide if this project will become the future of the Tongue River Valley.

What the future ultimately holds is uncertain, but we felt like we accomplished our mission of helping to educate people on the potential impacts on a quiet and majestic landscape.