What I learned about the coal mines of Texas
I just participated in something that, as a teacher, I could not have learned in a classroom or for that matter, taught in a classroom until now. Let me explain.
A week ago, I attended a teacher workshop with the Texas Mining and Reclamation Association (TMRA). We spent five days at the North American Coal lignite mine in Hallsville, Texas, where the focus was on natural resources and the environment.
Every summer TMRA offers five different all-expenses paid workshops for Texas teachers to help better educate students about the availability, importance, development and use of our natural resources. During week-long sessions, teachers tour mining facilities, visit reclamation areas and participate in hands-on labs with the objective of returning to the classroom and providing students with real-world, problem solving activities – such as designing a surface mine, restoring land or reclaiming water. These hands-on activities are designed to help students use critical thinking skills, while applying earth science facts to real-life situations. The workshops are designed to be used in grades 4-12 and all activities are TEKS and STAAR correlated.
Heading into the coal mine was an eye-opening experience
I am a middle-school science teacher from Dallas, Texas, who enjoys life-long learning and sharing that knowledge with my students, friends and family. I teach science and geology and have a fascination with the beauty and richness of our natural resources and how they can be sustained for all of us, especially those who love to get out there and enjoy the outdoors. Whether biking, hiking, camping or just taking a walk, I marvel at the vastness and variety of the Texas landscape. My natural enthusiasm for this bounty makes me want to share it with others. So I was very curious about what TMRA had to teach about mining in the state of Texas that I so love.
In the end, I was very surprised and informed on what I was able to learn through hands-on classroom instruction and visits to the actual mine, in this case lignite, which is a form of coal.
Here’s what I took away from the TMRA Teacher Workshop:
I walked away with a deeper understanding of the geological process in coal formation, an up-close look at the mining process and great labs to use in my classroom. My biggest takeaway, however, was the reclamation process and the importance of coal energy in Texas, specifically that:
- Texas is the 11th largest power market in the world.
- The energy sector contributes $172 billion annually to the Texas economy.
- Texas is the largest lignite producer and the 6th largest coal producer in the United States.
- Removing coal from our energy mix is against our nation’s economic interests and security.
- The Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) regulates the reclamation process.
- Permits to mine an area require a baseline data collection on the soil, cultural resources and flora/fauna of the area; this permit has to be renewed every five years.
- RCT requires the mine to hold a bond on every acre that is leased to mine.
- The reclamation process takes a minimum of 12 years to be released back to the landowner. The mine must apply for bond release and be approved for release by the RCT.
- The mine must maintain and monitor the health of the land until it is released back to the landowner.
Bottom line is the coal mining industry is a very misunderstood. You must educate yourself on the mining process from beginning to end and the role coal energy plays in the energy mix in Texas for providing electricity. After all, don’t you enjoy a cool house during the height of our Texas summers and heat during the wintertime when we need it? I know I do, and now I know a bit more about where this necessary energy comes from.