After working in the coal industry for some good years, I feel like it is time to write a short article on job opportunities in the coal business. Coal is complex. Over the years, the industry has become multi-dimensional. I am sure I would miss many points, but you should have the basic knowledge to think about your career in coal.
Let me begin by saying “No job is unimportant in a safe, efficient mine”.
Coal is one of the oldest commodities. China has been using coal for about 4000 years. In North America coal was first discovered in 1679 in Northern Illinois. Coal has played a major role in the history of modern civilization. Coal market has come through some ups and downs just like any other industry. However, even after using coal for so many years, we still have a lot left. World demand of coal is still really high. In the US, nearly 50% of electricity generation still comes from coal. So called 3rd world countries still waiting for their industrial revolution will soon need more supply.
To meet the high demand of coal all over the world, the industry requires skilled personnel from various backgrounds such as geologists, engineers, biologists, financial analysts, environmentalists, geochemists, hydrogeologists and so on. It is not just about digging the coal out of the ground. The coal industry is concerned about the environment, ecology, social impact etc. Skill in the coal industry doesn’t just come from university degree. Skill in the coal business is attained by education, training and practical experience.
Since the mechanization of the coal mines in the United States, routine manual labor for coal mines has decreased dramatically. The modern age coal miner has to go through various stages of training (Black Hat) and learn about the mechanization, mine operation, air supply and so on.
The safety personnel in the mine are responsible for meeting all safety standards imposed my MSHA and other in-house safety measures.
Coal mining starts with an exploration phase that requires geologists. Once the geologists decide the location of the exploration boreholes, drilling crew comes in. Once drilling is complete, cores are collected; laboratory experts analyze the coal seam for heat value, ash content, sulfur content etc. Data is used to produce various geologic maps by the geologists. Engineers use the maps to layout mine plans. Accountants and market analysts analyze the coal market, mine plan etc. for the feasibility of the mine. When the mine plan is profitable, a mine permit is submitted to the state agency responsible for evaluating mine applications. Once the permit is approved, the real work begins.
It is now way too complex in nature to summarize in just few sentences. Now depending on the type of the mining, different mining equipment’s are bought. Skilled miners hired. Construction company could build a slope/shalt to access the seam. A preparation plant is built. Engineers now control the drainage, valley fills, mining and any problems during coal extraction.
Pay scale in the coal industry is high. It is not as high as in the oil industry, but you would not be complaining too much about your salary. The grown in the coal industry is also rapid. With more skills acquired, your promotions could be very fast.
In a typical coal mining company the major functions are:
- Mining – mine layout, design, ventilation, drainage control
- Construction – Plant and underground design
- Production – Management of labor and equipment
- Preparation – Processing plant operation, quality control
- Maintenance – Regular and emergency maintenance / repair
- Electrical – Installation of electric power systems
- Mechanical – equipment design and layout
- Safety – meeting safety standards
- Reclamation – rehabilitation of mined areas
- Exploration – planning for the future of the mine
In short, there are still a lot of jobs available in the coal industry. No other energy source could supply the energy demand that is met by coal with the current technology. With more than 100 years of coal resources in the United States, it will easily support 3 to 4 generations of high quality of life.
Just do a search in indeed.com or monster.com. You would get an idea about the pay-scale and the frequency of jobs in the coal market.
Ankan Basu, P.G
- “Occupational opportunities” by Nicholas T. Camicia, Elements of practical coal mining.
- Coal Geology by Larry Thomas