The Future of Mountaintop Removal Is Lavender
(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Mountaintop removal mining—MTR, in industry shorthand—is a catastrophic process with a refreshingly honest name. Basically, a mountain and all the life that once grew upon it is stripped away to expose seams of bituminous coal, leaving behind an enormous pile of dirt and rock that’s good for almost nothing. Except, it seems, growing lavender. Four years ago a group at the West Virginia Regional Technology Park, a startup incubator in South Charleston, began an experimental program to see if this hardy, trendy plant could be grown on such sites and harvested for oil used in soaps, lotions, and perfumes.
The co-op that emerged from the trial, Cultivating Appalachia, now grows baby lavender plants, runs a training program, and connects potential farmers with receptive mine owners who are legally obligated to “reclaim” their sites. There are 330,000 acres of defunct MTR mines in West Virginia alone, says the tech park’s executive director, Rusty Kruzelock, who estimates the sites could generate “around $10,000 an acre” as lavender farms, making it a potential $3.3 billion industry.
So far the results are promising, with several varieties thriving on a test farm. And lavender is just step one. “The goal is to create a phytochemical industry,” Kruzelock says, “to first show that you can grow lavender and make oil, and then move on to other plants.”
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