MORE than 2.78 billion tonnes of coal have been gouged out of the Hunter Valley since the year 2000, enough to fill Lake Macquarie more than three times over.
Piled at 73 metres high - tall enough to cover Christ Church Cathedral plus the hill it's sitting on - it would create a 27 square kilometre blanket over the heart of Newcastle, from Fort Scratchley to Mayfield, and south to Merewether's Ocean baths.
As part of the ongoing series, Power and the Passion, the Newcastle Herald is examining the impacts of an extraordinary global shift in energy supply. This week we begin our focus on coal - what it's brought to the Hunter and what it will eventually leave behind - the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Coal has been the lifeblood of the Upper Hunter, but experts warn that our continuing reliance poses huge risks.
If the Hunter's mines and coal-fired power stations closed tomorrow, it would devastate the region, wiping out 15,000 direct jobs, plus contractors and suppliers, and strip more than $1.6 billion a year in wages from workers' pockets, erasing mining and related industries' 20 per cent share of the region's economy.