Mining engineering is one of the highest-paying bachelor’s degrees, but many students who might be interested in this career path don’t even know what this occupation entails. The job of designing and developing mines and the processes of extracting metals and minerals from natural resources below the Earth’s surface includes a wide range of job responsibilities. Mining engineers don’t necessarily have a daily routine. Instead, they perform different tasks on the days they spent out in the field, in the office and safeguarding planned or unexpected safety hazards. Additionally, different types of mining engineers may focus on different parts of the process of planning and optimizing mines and mining projects.
Field Work in Mining Engineering
One of the most exciting things about working as a mining engineer is what you do in the field. When a project is in the early stages, a mining engineer might be responsible for examining the site of a planned mine for “field reconnaissance,” as the Society of Women Engineers puts it. This work includes finding and mapping deposits of a mineral or metal, evaluating the site and observing the environmental characteristics of the site. Mining engineers may again visit the field after the mine has been fully designed and construction planned to observe excavation and construction of mining tunnels and shafts, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Field work doesn’t end once the mine is constructed. Mining engineers may also be responsible for visiting the mining site once it is fully operational to evaluate the performance of the mine. If needed, mining engineers may use the information they glean from these visits to uncover ways to ramp up productivity and address any issues involving the health and safety of mining workers or any problems with compliance with government regulations.
This branch of engineering is a perfect fit if you enjoy working outdoors and don’t mind the dust, debris, and unpredictability of a mining site. If you think you would get bored working in an office or lab day after day, mining engineering may be for you.
Office Work for Mining Engineers
Field work is critical for mining engineers, but they don’t spend all of their time on-site. They do much of their work in designing, planning and developing procedures for mines and mineral extraction processes in a regular office environment. In fact, the office is where mining engineers perform what O*NET considers the single most important core task this occupation, drafting the technical reports that personnel in various job functions use for mining products,
During their days in the office, a mining engineer’s job duties are both technical and creative. They develop the designs for both underground and open-pit mines. This responsibility includes creating the detailed drawings and 3D computer models of mine designs as well as the technical specifications that must be followed for the mine to be constructed safely and operate efficiently and in a way that complies with government regulations. A mining engineer may need to specify the equipment that should be used, as well as any blast or excavation sequences personnel must follow. Mining engineers may also handle the task of writing the contract documents that are part of the process of moving the project forward to the construction phase, according to the Society of Women Engineers.
Some mining engineers work directly for a company in an industry like coal mining, ore mining, or oil and gas extraction, but others work for consulting firms and are hired to assist different companies with different projects.
A Mining Engineer’s Role in Safeguarding and Remediating Hazards
When there’s a problem at a mine, mining engineers are called in to help. In this way, the work of a mining engineer can prevent a disaster or tragedy, like a tunnel collapse that traps mining workers with limited oxygen or an unsecured, abandoned mine where untrained individuals could get hurt or lost.
Some jobs in safeguarding mines are planned. If an active mine is being closed down or if a mine is known to be abandoned but is unsecured, mining engineers may undertake the project of planning remediation. Abandoned mines pose a significant human health risk as well as an environmental risk, the Environmental Protection Agency reported, but following best practices allows these lands to be safeguarded and reused.
At other times, a mining engineer responds to an emergency situation, like a sinkhole. Sinkholes are dangerous situations that occur when the soil or rock foundation on the Earth’s surface collapses. When an abandoned underground mine is not properly safeguarded and remediated, a sinkhole may open up above the mine and pose a risk to the public, even swallowing vehicles and entire buildings into the chasm. Because a sinkhole can develop in a matter of hours, mining engineers treat a sinkhole as an urgent problem. They must quickly develop a design that will safeguard the mine so that the sinkhole can be repaired or remediated and the risk of a future geohazard occurrence is mitigated.
If you enjoy the safety aspect of mining engineering, you should know there’s a subfield of this occupation, mining safety engineer, in which you focus on the design and inspection of mines to ensure the safety of mining workers and compliance with regulations.