Educator Info: Cookie Mining
Learn the economics of coal mining. Students will buy a mine, purchase mining equipment, conduct mining operations, sell their mined ore and attempt to reclaim the mined land.
Lesson at a Glance
Students will understand the basic economic flow of operating a mine. They'll be introduced to the challenges of reclaiming mined land and will think critically about the tradeoffs of mine and equipment purchase, time management and the balance between costs and profit.
National Science Education Standards
Grades 5-8, Standard A: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
Grades 5-8, Standard A: Understanding about scientific inquiry
Grades 5-8, Standard D: Structure of the Earth system
Grades 5-8, Standard D: Earth's history
Grades 5-8, Standard E: Abilities of technological design
Grades 5-8, Standard E: Understanding about science and technology
Grades 5-8, Standard F: Populations, resources and environments
Grades 5-8, Standard F: Risks and benefits
Grades 5-8, Standard F: Science and technology in society
Coal mining is the process of extracting coal mineral resources from the Earth. This can be done through underground tunneling and extraction, or through open pit or surface mining. The costs of running a coal mine include acquisition of land, equipment purchase and operation, wages and insurance for mine workers, and reclamation of the mined land. The return on the investment comes when the ore is extracted and coal is sold. There is a delicate balance between the economic costs and benefits of coal mining and the environmental impact and restoration of mined land.
Environmental problems arising from the mining process are destruction of ecosystems and natural landscapes, subsidence of land, acid mine drainage and groundwater degradation. Land reclamation aims to minimize and reverse these problems by restoring and protecting the land before, during and after mining. The goal is to return, regrade and replant the mined land and, in the case of underground mines, fill the tunnels and cavities to prevent the land from sinking or subsiding. The degree to which the original ecosystem can be returned is hotly debated, as recovered land is typically converted to another use, such as farmland, human development or recreation.
Even when land is restored, acid drainage is the most significant, long-lasting and difficult to reverse effect of coal mining. Water is needed to extract coal from the ground and after use in mining, the water turns acidic. When this acidic water exits the mine, it seeps into the soil and groundwater of the surrounding environment.
Illinois' recoverable coal reserves are the third largest in the country (after Wyoming and Montana), at about 38 billion tons. Illinois coal is of bituminous rank and contains high amounts of sulfur. Due to changes in air quality regulations and price competition from coal sources with less sulfur, Illinois coal sales to utilities and industrial plants in other states dropped 52 percent from 1990 to 2007. This has meant a decrease in coal mine employment levels, a drop in the price of Illinois coal and a large number of mine closures.
Research and development of cleaner coal technologies may provide a new future for the Illinois coal industry, but the environmental and economic effects of these technologies are unknown.
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