Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The dark side of coal

Yesterday a Utah coal mine collapsed, trapping six miners 1,500 feet below the ground. The cave-in was so powerful authorities first thought it was an earthquake.

Coal accounts for 95 percent of the nation's fossil fuel reserves and is found under 13 percent of the nation’s land area. Thirty-eight states have coal, 26 of which mine it.

The US has nearly 268 billion tons of recoverable coal reserves, a 240 year supply at today's usage rates. Worldwide coal reserves, 60% of the world’s total fossil fuel reserves, are expected to last 155 years.

In the US, an average of 33 miners die and over 5,700 are injured in coal mine accidents each year. Of course zero is the only acceptable number for death and injury but the numbers seem pretty low considering coal generates half the electricity used in the United States. But another view of the numbers reveals that each year one in 13 miners suffers an injury and one in 2,300 dies. These are the highest of any major occupation.

There is good news overall: in the last 90 years, unintentional work deaths for all occupations declined from one in 4,800 to one in 67,000, a reduction of 93%.

The National Mining Association estimates that the US will need approximately 50,000 new coal miners over the next ten years. I just hope the numbers look a lot better for them.

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