Mining engineering is an engineering discipline that involves the practice, the theory, the science, the technology, and application of extracting and processing minerals from a naturally occurring environment. Mining engineering also includes processing minerals for additional value.
The need for mineral extraction and production is an essential activity of any technically proficient society. As minerals are produced from within a naturally occurring environment, disturbance of the environment as a result of mineral production is a given. Modern mining engineers must therefore be concerned not only with the production and processing of mineral commodities, but also with the mitigation of damage or changes to an environment as a result of that production and processing.
According to the US Department of Labor:
The total engineering profession has 1.5 million jobs in the US, of which 7,100 jobs, or 1/2 of one percent, are in mining engineering.
Dating back to around 300,000 BC, mining was actively practiced for non-metallic materials for weapons such as flint and obsidian In addition minerals were mined for jewelry and basic construction.
Up until 40,000 BC mining activity was centered around surface collection, shallow pits, and placer extraction. Thereafter, miners began to excavate deeper into the ground which gradually became what is known today as underground mining.
Metal extraction from metallic ores began around 7,000 BC, this began with copper, and then eventually lead and silver.
Finally around the late 13th AD the discovery of coal and mineral fuels further increased activity of mining non-metallic, metallic ore, and industrial fuels.
A mining engineer at any stage of his or her career can find themselves at any point of the life of a mining enterprise.
This could involve being active in the inception stage which involve mineral exploration. Their services can be provided during a mining cycle where the extraction procedure is established, the capital equipment provided for, and the reserve life that is reasonably known where the estimated time of abandonment of the reserve is years, decades, or even centuries away.
Finally, the mining engineer may be involved at the end of the mine life cycle where reclamation operations are established and practiced along with plans to abandon the extraction operation.
Mining engineers may be involved in the mineral discovery stage. They may work with a geologist to identify a mineral reserve. Other people such as managers, investors, and contract hire may also assist in the discovery process.
The process of identification begins with determining what mineral is to be sought. This in turn provides a basic list of criteria for the discovery. For example a mining engineer and geologist may target metallic ores such as galena for lead or chalcolite for copper.
As for non-metals, a mining engineer may search for phosphate, quartz, or gypsum ore.
The discovery can be made from research of mineral maps, master/PhD thesis, academic geological reports, or local, state, and national geological reports. Other sources of information include property assays, well drilling logs, and local word of mouth. Mineral research may also include satellite and airborne photographs.
Unless the mineral exploration is done on public property, and subject to public law, usually the exploration involves exploration on private property. Thus, economically, the private individual or group of individuals will play a role in the exploration process.
After a prospective mineral is located, the mining engineer then determines the ore properties. This may involve testing the material with established testing procedures. Once the mineral properties are identified, the next step is determining the quantity of the ore. Usually this is determined in tons, acres, cubic feet, or in the case of precious base metals, ounces.
Once the mineral identification and reserve amount is reasonably determined, the next step is determine the reserve feasibility.
Initial determination involves studying the market conditions such as the supply and demand of the mineral.
Furthermore, the determination involves the cost of initial capital investment, methods of extraction, the cost of operation. The feasibility study also includes an estimated length of time to payback, the gross and net profit margin, any possible resale price of the reserve, the total life of the reserve, the total value of the reserve, investment in future prospects, and the property owner or owners' contract. In addition, environmental impact, reclamation, possible legal ramifications and all government permitting are considered.,
After the feasibility practice is complete. It is then determined if the reserve is worth developing or the project is abandoned all together. Another possible outcome is selling the reserve exploration and interests. In addition, the the decision may be postponed indefinitely until market conditions become favorable.
Mining engineers when working in an established operation may work as an engineer for operations improvement, further mineral exploration, and operation capitalization through adding equipment, processes, and personnel. This may include pit and underground planning and development.
The engineer may also work in supervision and management.
Furthermore, the engineer may also work as an equipment and mineral salesperson.
In addition to engineering and operations, the mining engineer may work as an environmental, health and safety manager or engineer.