Event allows families, visitors to enter coal mine
SEATED IN LOW-SLUNG “man trips,” vehicles resembling a narrow, cut-down Hummer — with none of the creature comforts — visitors to the Willow Lake coal mine in Equality, Ill., Oct. 17 got a trip underground to see what members of Local S8 do for a living. The tour was part of the facility’s annual open house activities.
About 400 L-S8 members work for Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company. In 2008, the Willow Lake mine sold 3.7 million tons of coal to Midwest utility customers.
Before entering the mine, visitors first underwent a training course on mine safety and were fitted with personal protective equipment. The underground tour began with a drive down a long, dark access tunnel called the “slope.” Following a brief trip in the mine proper, visitors returned to the surface for lunch, rides for the kids, and flu shots for those who needed them.
“This was a great opportunity for people who have never been in an underground coal mine to see what it’s like,” said L-S8 President Greg Fort.
Editor’s note: The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers also represents nearly 300 coal miners in Rock Springs, Wy. (Local S1978), who are employed at the Bridger coal mine, a surface mining operation.
More than half of all electric power generation in the United States comes from coal, and it is estimated that U.S. coal reserves could last 200-300 years.
Coal is an attractive fuel source because it is so plentiful, it is relatively easy to access, and it is inexpensive compared to other fuel sources. Because burning coal emits carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, the future of coal is tied to emerging technologies that remove CO2 either before coal is burned in a boiler or from flue gases before they leave the stack.