The minerals found under the earth’s surface are valuable resources used for fuel and manufacturing. Mining and geological engineers are the engineers whose job is to locate the deposits of these minerals and develop the mines and mining equipment needed to retrieve these resources. To become a mining or geological engineer, you need a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field of study from an accredited engineering school.
The Work of Mining and Geological Engineers
Mining and geological engineering are such similar fields that the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) combines these two roles into a single occupation group. However, there are differences in the work these engineers do as well as the subjects of study required to earn a degree in these disciplines of engineering.
Both mining engineers and geological engineers work to achieve the same end goal: efficient extraction of resources such as coal, gold and ore. However, they work in different capacities. Geological engineers are the ones who first figure out where a mine will be constructed. They use their expertise in minerals, rocks and geology to identify mineral deposits, assess the feasibility and potential challenges of extraction sites and plan the process of retrieving these resources, according to the BLS. Geological engineers’ plans for extracting minerals must take into accounting the impact on the environment as well as efficiency of the extraction process.
Mining engineers focus more on creating the mines and mining equipment used in this process. They may design and develop both underground and open-pit mines, including the tunnels and mine shafts used to transport workers, equipment and resources. Some mining engineers are more involved with the process of evaluating mineral deposits, designing mining and extraction equipment and developing methods to process and separate minerals from soil and other materials found near deposits. Many mining engineers are specialists in extracting a particular kind of metal or mineral, such as gold, iron or coal, according to the BLS.
A third occupation, mining safety engineer, is concerned with keeping miners safe and making sure that mines are designed and constructed in ways that follow government regulations.
Degrees in Mining and Geological Engineering
Understanding the general differences between mining engineering and geological engineering can help you choose which role you want to pursue as well as which type of degree program will help you reach this goal. While there is certainly overlap between these occupations and fields of study, there are also important distinctions. In fact, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) has two different sets of requirements for degree programs in mining engineering and geological engineering to attain accreditation.
ABET-accredited geological engineering programs must include a foundation of math courses in calculus and differential equations and science classes in chemistry and physics as they apply to geological engineering. Naturally, students will need to study geology and geological science, with a focus on geophysics, geological and engineering field methods and how to identify minerals. Despite the focus on geological science, students must still take plenty of classes in engineering sciences, with an emphasis on statics, geomechanics and the properties and strengths of engineering materials. The focus of a geological engineering program is the practical application of science and math concepts to the design of geological engineering solutions. Geological engineering students often take courses such as hydrogeology for engineers, structural geology for engineers and mining geology.
To attain ABET accreditation, a mining engineering program must include considerable coursework in subjects such as mining methods, rock mechanics and fragmentation, planning and design of underground and surface mines, mine ventilation and safety and mineral and coal processing. Mining engineering majors take many of the same math and basic science courses as geological engineering majors, though there is typically more emphasis on probability and statistics as it pertains to mining engineering. Aspiring mining engineers do need to take geology courses, but their studies in geological sciences is more focused on gaining fundamental knowledge than developing expertise in the subject. Often, practical laboratory experiences play an important role in a mining engineering student’s education. By the time they graduate, students in mining engineering programs should have the skills to fully design from beginning to end a mine that meets all financial, environmental and social constraints. In fact, at some engineering schools, that objective is precisely the topic of the student’s senior or capstone design project required for graduation.
You might not think of mining engineering as being closely related to computers, but many mining engineers use sophisticated computer software to create three-dimensional models of mines. Coursework in mining engineering should include classes in using this software.