Mining and Geological EngineerMining, mining safety, and geological engineers locate, extract, and prepare minerals, coal, and metals to be used in manufacturing and the energy production. They oversee mine shaft and tunnel construction, design underground mines, and coordinate the transportation of minerals to processing facilities. Mining engineers are responsible for the safety of workers and protecting the environment. Certain mining engineers work with geologists to locate new ore deposits, some design new mining tools, and some supervise mineral-processing operations. Mining engineers also work on environmental protection issues, and they use their knowledge to advise employers on mine safety and compliance with mining regulations while also inspecting facilities for safety hazards.
The duties of mining and geological engineers include:
- Designing underground and open-pit mines
- Overseeing the construction process for underground tunnels and mine shafts
- Creating ways to transport minerals to plants for processing
- Drawing up technical reports for managers, engineers, and miners
- Tracking rates of production and evaluating the operation's effectiveness
- Solving problems regarding water and air pollution, sustainability, and land reclamation
- Making sure that mining operations are as safe and as environmentally friendly as possible
In their efforts to find and assess new ore deposits, mining engineers often collaborate with metallurgical engineers and geologists. Some mining engineers design and develop new kinds of equipment or processes in order to separate desirable minerals from rocks and dirt.
Geological engineers use their knowledge of geological processes to find mineral deposits and to assess potential mine locations. After deciding on a particular location, they figure out the most efficient and ecologically responsible ways to extract the minerals or metals.
Mining safety engineers evaluate mines to make sure that all miners are safe, and that all state and federal regulations are being followed. They monitor the quality of the air, examine the roofs and walls of the mine, and inspect the mining machinery and equipment.
Engineers with graduate-level degrees often teach courses in engineering at universities and colleges. To learn more about this field of work, refer to the profile on postsecondary teachers.
Mining and geological engineers hold over 6,000 jobs. They often work in remote areas at mining sites, far from cities or towns. Some engineers, on the other hand, work near cities at sand-and-gravel mining sites. Engineers with more practical experience might work in offices for consulting companies or for mining firms.
The following table shows the industries which employ the most mining and geological engineers:
- Architectural, engineering, and related services – 28%
- Metal ore mining – 14%
- Coal mining – 13%
- Oil and gas extraction – 7%
- Nonmetallic mineral mining and quarrying – 5%
Mining and geological engineers must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited undergraduate program. In order to market their services to the public, mining and geological engineers must be professionally licensed. Licensure requirements vary by state.
High school students who want to prepare for these occupations should study science and mathematics.
Programs in mining engineering are relatively rare. Students of these programs can expect to study thermodynamics, mine design and safety, physics, geology, and mathematics. Programs combine classroom learning with extensive field and laboratory training.
Mining and geological engineering programs should be accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). The accreditation process evaluates the program's curriculum, faculty, and facilities, among other factors.
Some master's degree programs are also available. These usually last 2 years, and train students in specialized areas of focus such as mining regulations and mineral resource development. A written thesis is often require for graduation from these programs.
Before engineers can market their services to the public, they must be professionally licensed by the state. Engineers must pass two exams for licensure, each of which is administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). The first exam is called the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, and the second is called the Principles and Practices of Engineering (PPE) exam. Engineers may take the FE exam immediately after graduation from an ABET-accredited undergraduate program. After passing this exam, the engineer becomes known as an engineer in training (EIT) or engineer intern (EI). EITs may take the PPE exam only after gaining at least 4 years of practical work experience.
Engineers who have been licensed by the state are called professional engineers (PEs).
In order to become licensed, an engineer must:
- Graduate from an engineering program accredited by ABET
- Gain 4 years of work experience in the field
- Pass a state exam
The median salary of mining and geological engineers is more than $82,000 a year. The median salary is the salary at which 50% of the workers earned more and 50% earned less. The lowest 10% of engineers earn less than $49,000 a year, and the highest 10% earn more than $129,000 a year.
The following table shows the industries which employ the most mining and geological engineers, as well as the median salary of engineers in those industries:
- Oil and gas extraction – $98,430
- Architectural, engineering, and related services – $83,090
- Metal ore mining – $81,790
- Coal mining – $78,170
- Nonmetallic mineral mining and quarrying – $75,750
It's estimated that job prospects for mining and geological engineers will grow by 10% in the next decade. This rate of growth is about average. The actual number of new positions will be relatively small, however, because the occupation does not employ a large number of people in the first place.
Growth in mining operations will fuel demand for mining and geological engineers. Some federal policies which regulate access to coal deposits on federally-owned land in many western states have recently been revised. This policy revision opens the door for more mining operations aimed at extracting this coal, which is in particular demand across the globe due to its low sulfur content. These new mining operations will require the expertise of mining and geological engineers in order to extract the minerals as efficiently and safely as possible.
Another factor which will generate more opportunities for mining and geological engineers is the restriction of exports of "rare earths". "Rare earths" are specific minerals used in the production of many high-tech devices. The restriction of exports of these minerals will drive exploration and development of new domestic mines which yield them, and therefore create more demand for mining and geological engineers.
In an effort to reduce expenses, companies are tending to contract engineering services out to independent firms, rather than employing permanent company engineers. This trend will create more opportunities for employment in engineering firms.
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