I graduated from Virginia Tech with a BS in Mining Engineering and I’ve been coal mining ever since.
I get asked a lot if it is a 4 year degree – yes it is.
We have to study everything other engineers learn including thermodynamics, electrical theory, statics, dynamics, deforms.
Some coursework in my major included mine design, blasting, ventilation, geophysics, and engineering economics.
Many people ask if I have to crawl around all day long – nope! I drive an F-150 underground.
Speed limit is 25, but I’ve never gotten pulled over down there (all the trucks have governor chips set to 25).
Some mines in the Appa-latch-in Mountains are only 4 ft. high, but I’ve never worked there.
The walls are white with “rock dust”, this prevents coal dust from being breathed in and coal dust is also combustable – you don’t want it floating around.
This is the backbone of any high production coal mine – the longwall shearer.
It moves back and forth cutting out massive amounts of coal which is then transported via conveyor systems all the way out of the mine.
Some mines are only accessed by a shaft (vertical tunnel) and hoist, but I’ve only worked in mines that are accessed by a long slope (you just drive right down to 900 ft. underground). My mine produces 5 million tons of coal annually.
Another thing people ask is how dangerous it is.
I can honestly say that I’ve never felt in danger.
I read a statistic from the US Department of Labor that says underground coal mining has a lower accident incident rate than grocery stores, department stores, hospitals, and hotels.
That being said, people do still lose their lives.
Working around heavy machinery in close quarters is inherently dangerous.
This is a continuous miner. In mines out the entries (where we drive and set up belt lines and ventilation). Some small mines only use continuous miners, but they have nowhere near the efficiency and recovery rates that longwall shearers have. Most mines use 2-3 continuous miners per 1 longwall shearer.
Many coal companies that were previously “swimming in cash” are now out of business because they can’t survive with the dropping price of coal. Mining coal will be around for the rest of our lives no matter what – good or bad. Coal is required to make steel even if we no longer use it for electricity.
Most of the equipment is remote controlled, so that miners don’t need to be under unsupported roof or near the cutting heads.
Mining engineering pays at about the same level as chemical engineering, computer science, and petroleum engineering. I started at $70k and moved up from there. The hours are very long though – I start at 6AM and get off at 5PM.