More than half of the Nation's electrical power comes from coal burning and a large percentage of the coal comes from West Virginia. 53 of the 55 counties in West Virginia have coal reserves, and underground, surface, and mountain top mining is a major economic factor for the state. Of the nearly 150 million tons of coal extracted each year, an increasing amount (60 million tons in 2009) comes from surface and mountain top production.
1987 and 2011 Landsat satellite images illustrate the expansion of surface mining in west central West Virginia. Local communities and the regional environment are affected by the practice, as streams near the mines can end up containing higher levels of minerals, which can cause decreased biodiversity. Reclamation of the disturbed land is a prime concern; consequently, Landsat data provide useful overviews of locations, sizes, and rates of expansion of the mining operations.