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Coal mining is the process of locating and removing underground coal deposits. The coal mining industry refers to the publicly and privately owned companies in various countries that are involved in this process. Surface mining, most commonly in the form of so-called strip mining, and underground mining, when tunnels are dug far below the surface, are the two main ways of mining that the coal mining industry can access and remove coal deposits. The coal mining industry has its origins in the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, when it provided an energy source for steam engines used to power trains, ships, and factory machines. Today, the coal mined by the coal mining industry is mainly used to produce electricity in power plants and in steel manufacturing.
The type of mining process used by the coal mining industry to extract a coal deposit varies depending on factors such as how deep a deposit is located, the geology of the area, and environmental factors and regulations. Surface mining, often in the form of strip mining, is the most common process, and is usually done when a deposit is located less than 300 feet (100 m) underground. This process involves the removal of large quantities of soil and rock until the coal deposit is reached. Deeper deposits are usually mined using underground mining methods, where extensive tunnel systems are created to access the coal.
Coal mining is an important industrial activity in many parts of the world, including the United States, China, Australia, India, Russia, and South Africa. The coal produced by the coal mining industry provides resources for other industries in the form of electricity and refined coal used in, for example, steel and cement making. Coal also provides electricity to the general public. In the United States, it is estimated that half the electricity generated is from coal-fueled power plants.
The coal mining and coal processing performed by the coal mining industry are expensive, large-scale industrial activities that require large investments in machinery and manpower. Providing a safe work environment for coal miners and limiting the environmental impact of the mining process can be costly and challenging for the coal mining industry. In some countries, like the United States, regulations often require companies to restore land affected by mining and provide a safe work environment for miners. Companies that operate in less developed regions are often less regulated, and there coal mines can have a devastating impact on the environment and be extremely hazardous workplaces.