Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Coal miners suffer as natural gas increases

          The U.S. has overtaken Russian as the number one producer of oil and natural gas. According to the Wall Street Journal (see Blackboard for the article), the U.S. produces 22 million barrels a day; and that is 200,000 more barrels than Russia. The increase in the production of natural gas has had a detrimental impact on coal country.  For more than a century, Hanlan County, Kentucky has been dependent on the coal industry for employment, fuel and the means to support their quality of life. Unemployment has risen from 9.8% to 17.2 % in the past two years. Forty-two percent of coal miners in eastern Kentucky have lost their jobs. The Duncan family is only one example of the many casualties of the trend away from coal mining towards natural gas production. Scott Duncan worked in mining for 18 years. He once earned $80,000 per year. Unfortunately, he, his wife and three teenage children now use food stamps to supplement their food costs. The C.V. Bennett family owns one of the only mines still operating in Harlan County. Today, the C.V. Bennett family has only 100 employees. 400 less employees than what it had five years ago. It is no doubt, that the boom of natural gas production and new federal limits on greenhouse gases has led to the economic downturn for eastern Kentucky’s coal miners.
          The production of natural gas is positive for the environment and the economy in the long-term, but the loss of mining jobs in the short-term is still devastating. New technology often leaves many workers displaced and their quality of life drastically reduced, due to the lack of skill for the new developing technology among the old workers of its rival industry. The coal mining industry is a huge part of American history and it has been a viable industry for many generations. New federal limits on greenhouse gases have further crippled the coal mining industry as it increases the cost of production. A possible solution to the economic downturn of the coal industry would be to increase export volumes, reduce costs, diversify resources and invest in new technology that will make the process of mining more environmentally friendly. Yet while many others lag behind government environmental mandates, others have adapted and mastered the requirements and means for survival in the coal industry. Queensland Coal Industry in Australia has stayed ahead of the economic downturn for the coal industry by implementing many of these same strategies listed above. Thus, it is possible for emissions to be reduced, while viably remaining a competitor with natural gas production, but at what cost, and will each company be able or willing to make the necessary changes?
--Fredrick Jones

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