The Colorado School of Mines has used the Edgar Mine in Idaho Springs as an experimental mine to teach students since 1921. On Dec. 14, the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a historic field hearing about the future of mining education in the United States in a classroom 1,000 feet inside the Edgar Mine.
Representatives Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Rob Bishop (R-UT), Cresent Hardy (R-NV) and Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) were on hand for the first ever congressional hearing held in a mine to listen to testimony supporting the Mining School Enhancement Act which was introduced to congress by Hardy and Perlmutter on Oct. 9, 2015. The act, which is part of a larger mining development and reclamation reform package, seeks to address the absence of a viable pipeline necessary to replenish current faculty vacancies in United States Mining Schools.
The legislation was initiated in response to the EPA’s handling of the Gold King Mine Spill. The package addresses systemic problems in mining development and reclamation. It includes H.R. 3844 (Rep. Jody Hice), the “Energy and Minerals Reclamation Foundation Establishment Act” which creates a foundation to facilitate cleanup of abandoned mine lands (AML) and orphaned oil and gas well sites. And H.R. 3843 (Rep. Lamborn), the “Locatable Minerals Claim Location and Maintenance Fees Act” which establishes Good Samaritan provisions that incentivize private sector remediation of abandoned mine land.
“What better place to hold a hearing to discuss the need for future mining engineering experts,” Subcommittee Chair Lamborn said in his opening statement. “It is a need felt by industry, states, the federal government as well as nonprofits.”
SME has long been aware of the impending crisis the industry faces as an estimated one third of its workforce speeds to retirement age with very few qualified engineers on deck to replace them. It is a problem that is rooted in the nation’s mining education programs which have shrunk from 25 in 1982 to just 14 in 2003. And the number of faculty has declined from 120 in 1984 to 70 in 2007. The 14 accredited mining engineering schools have produced an average of less than 200 graduates per year for the past decade. Of this relatively low number of graduates only a few choose to pursue a career in academia and fewer still can advance through the tenure track program. In turn, fewer faculty in the future will mean even fewer graduates.
It is an issue that two of the panelists; Leigh Freeman, principal of Leigh Freeman Consultancy, and Hugh Miller, associate professor at the Colorado School of Mines, have addressed head on. Freeman was appointed to the ad hoc committee of the National Academy of Sciences for a study of "Emerging Workforce Trends in the US Energy and Mining Industries.” And Miller serves as the chair of SME Education Sustainability Committee. The third panelist, Nancy Nuttbrock of the Brieley and Associates, served as administrator of the Land Quality Division of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and subsequently was elevated to the position of Deputy Director of Wyoming’s DEQ.
“Mining education is at risk,” said Miller. “The continued loss of programs and the talent they generate will have a profound impact on the nation’s economy and security. Without significant near-term investment, academic institutions will not have the capacity to produce the graduates necessary to the sustain the industry demand. There are opportunities however, where the federal government can make a difference by investing in meaningful research initiatives that encourage, industry, university and government collaboration.”
“The testimony confirmed what we have heard before and gives great urgency to get this accomplished,” said Rep. Bishop.