Rising U.S. coal exports that the industry hopes can offset flagging domestic demand have Montana ranchers facing the possibility that their way of life could be sacrificed to feed Asian energy demands.
Near the town of Roundup, the once-shuttered Bull Mountain mine could produce more than 9 million tons of coal this year, more than half headed overseas.
Bull Mountain neighbor and rancher Ellen Pfister has been working against coal mining in Montana since proposals in the 1970's that called for dozens of new strip mines. Those plans were never fully realized, but now Pfister is seeing her biggest fears realized as the export push compromises her ranch's water supplies.
For the industry, Bull Mountain and other export mines in Wyoming and Montana represent a bet that overseas sales can reverse coal's flagging fortunes in the U.S.