coal mining

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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coal mining

coal mining, physical extraction of coal resources to yield coal; also, the business of exploring for, developing, mining, and transporting coal in any form. Strip mining is the process in which the overburden (earth and rock material overlying the coal) is removed to expose a coal seam or coal bed. Excavators either dispose of the overburden or store the waste material for replacement after the coal has been extracted. Once exposed, the coal is usually removed in a separate operation. Surface soil is often stripped separately and spread back onto the reclaimed surface. The environment can also be protected by seeding or planting grass or trees on the fertilized restored surface of a strip mine. The term strip mining is most often used in reference to coal mining, although the process may also be used to extract certain metallic ores as well. Sometimes the terms open-pit,open-cast, or surface mining are used in the same sense, although they usually refer to metalliferous mining or the mining of other minerals. Underground coal mining is the extraction of coal from below the surface of the earth. The coal is worked through tunnels, passages, and openings that are connected to the surface for the purpose of the removal of the coal. Mechanical equipment breaks the coal to a size suitable for haulage. Alternatively, the coal is drilled, and the resultant holes are loaded with explosives and blasted in order to break the coal to the desired size. In order to protect the miners and equipment in an underground coal mine, much attention is paid to maintaining and supporting a safe roof or overhead ceiling for the extraction openings. Long-wall mining is a method of underground mining believed to have been developed in Shropshire, England, near the end of the 17th cent. A long face, or working section, of coal, some 600 ft (180 m) in length, is operated at one time. The miners and machinery at the working face are usually protected by hydraulic jacks or mechanical props which are advanced as the coal is extracted. The excavated, or gob, area is either allowed to cave in, or is filled in by waste material called stowing. The Anderton shearer is a widely used coal cutter and loader for long-wall mining. It shears coal from the face as it moves in one direction and loads coal onto an armored conveyor as it travels back in the opposite direction. It is ordinarily used for coal seams greater than 3.5 ft (9.1 cm) in thickness.

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