By Kathy Hynes


Fossils fuels are valuable energy resources, but they are also laden with problems. Coal, the most abundant fossil fuel in North America, is also difficult to obtain. Underground coal mining is dangerous and costly. It is safer to strip mine shallow deposits. However, strip mining destroys the natural surface environment. Governmental regulations have been designed to improve mining safety and to reclaim or repair environmental damage. Supplying our energy needs and preserving the environment pose great challenges for mining companies and our government.


To demonstrate some of the problems of mining and reclamation.


  • blueberry muffin
  • paper towel
  • toothpicks
  • plastic knife
  • pen and paper for each student (or group if you prefer)


  1. Tell students to pretend their muffin is a land area, and the blueberries are coal deposits.
  2. Students inspect their land area for surface deposits and make predictions about underground deposits.
  3. Record findings and predictions.
  4. Students then carefully mine the coal deposits (remove blueberry pieces), keeping in mind that they must reclaim their land area.
  5. Record the number of coal deposits successfully removed.
  6. Students now must try to restore their land to original conditions or reclaim them.

Data Table: 

  • number of surface deposits
  • predicted number of underground deposits
  • number of coal deposits successfully removed
  • number of failed or abandoned attempts

(As a group students may compare and average data)


  1. How did the land areas change as a result of your mining?
  2. What problems did you encounter trying to reclaim your land?
  3. Relate these problems to the problems that mining companies face.
  4. Consider whether mining should be permitted in areas that cannot be successfully reclaimed.