(Opinion) LTE: Response to coal mining piece

An open coal pit leased by David Osikowicz, age 66, who is owner of Original Fuels, a coal brokerage and four affiliated coal mines in Punxsutawney, PA. Osikowicz only started digging recently in this leased area and has not yet reached the coal, but should very soon. One the coal has been extracted, the pit will be cleaned up, refilled with earth and turned back in to pasture, to regulation standards.

Dear Editor,

I respect Sally Dukes’ right to share her opinion, and I hope that you will allow me to add my input and hopefully clarify some traditional stereotypes. The first stereotype is that underground coal mining is “incredibly dangerous.” According to statistics from the Mine Safety and Health Administration, there was a 3.3 percent chance that a coal miner was hurt during 2016.  While the goal is no injuries in any industry, please compare that 3.3 percent chance to the following rates as reported by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration:

·        Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting — 5.7 percent

·        Amusement and theme parks — 6 percent

·        Armored car services — 6 percent

·        Construction — 8.2 percent

·        Footwear manufacturing — 5.6 percent

·        Hospitals — 7.8 percent

·        Nursing and residential care facilities — 6.2 percent

·        Skiing facilities — 8.3  percent

·        Veterinary service — 12.1 percent

So, a worker is more than twice as likely to be injured working in a hospital than a coal mine. This is due, in large part, to the tremendous amount of attention that is paid to safety in the workplace at mining operations.

Another stereotype is that owners of large companies are greedy. I know Mr. Murray and it is clear to me that the safety and welfare of the men and women that he works with are much more important than profit. Personally, I’ve chosen a career in academia that is relatively low-risk, but I admire Mr. Murray, who was willing to mortgage everything he owned to start a business and then work tirelessly to see it now employing approximately 6,000 people.

Mining is one of two primary industries (agriculture being the other) that feed all the manufacturing and service industries. We may ultimately reach a circular economy, but in the meantime, the mining industry will continue to provide the minerals that are used in everyday items like toothpaste, bridges and smartphones. Here at Virginia Tech, we have a very healthy mining and minerals engineering department. In fact, more than 20 percent of all graduates in the U.S. over the past 10 years have come from VT. The challenge that these graduates have accepted is to make this primary industry safer, cleaner and more efficient. I’d be happy to meet with you or Ms. Dukes and tell you more about our industry and our department.



Erik Westman

professor and head, mining and minerals engineering

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