The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently prepared a report outlining the mining industry’s employment situation and the primary influences affecting it. Following is a synopsis of that report.
Employment in mining is projected to decrease. The growing U.S. and world
economies will continue to demand larger quantities of the raw materials
produced by mining, but the increased output will be able to be met by new
technologies and new extraction techniques that increase productivity and
require fewer workers.
Wage and salary employment in mining is expected to decline by 14 percent
through the year 2018, compared with 11 percent growth projected for the entire
economy. Mining production is tied closely with prices and demand for the raw
materials produced, and as prices for oil, gas and metals have risen rapidly in
recent years, production and employment in the industry also have grown. In the
short term, employment may fluctuate due to changes in prices, but over the
course of the projections period, technological advances will increase
productivity and cause employment declines in the mining industry as a
Petroleum and natural gas exploration and development in the United States
depends upon prices for these resources, and the size of accessible reserves.
Stable and favorable prices are needed to allow companies enough revenue to
expand exploration and production projects. Rising worldwide demand for oil and
gas – particularly from developing countries such as India
– is likely to cause prices to remain elevated and generate the needed
incentive for oil and gas producers to continue exploring and developing oil
and gas reserves. U.S.
reserves of oil and gas should remain adequate to support continued production
through 2018. However, environmental concerns, accompanied by strict regulation
and limited access to protected federal lands, continue to have a major impact
on this industry. Restrictions on drilling in environmentally sensitive areas
and other environmental constraints should continue to limit exploration and
development – both onshore and offshore.
In addition to resource availability, new production technologies also will
impact employment in the industry. New drilling and extraction techniques allow
for more efficient production from a reduced number of drill sites. As a
result, employment in oil and gas extraction is expected to decline by 16
percent through 2018. However, changes in policy could expand exploration and
drilling for oil and natural gas in currently protected areas, potentially
Demand for coal will increase as coal remains the primary fuel source for
electricity generation. Although environmental concerns exist regarding coal
power (burning coal releases pollutants and carbon dioxide), few alternatives
exist on a scale large enough to meet the fuel demand of utilities. Natural gas
burns cleaner than coal, but coal power plants equipped with scrubbers reduce
this disadvantage, and natural gas prices have been more volatile than coal
prices in recent years. Future increased use of nuclear power or renewable
energy sources, such as solar or wind power, could reduce demand for coal, but
over the projection period, neither is expected to increase rapidly enough to
contribute significantly to U.S. energy supplies.
Environmental concerns will continue to affect mining operations. Increasingly,
government regulations are restricting access to land, and restricting the type
of mining that is performed in order to protect native plants and animals, and
decrease the amount of water and air pollution. As population
growth expands further into the countryside, new developments compete with mine
operators for land, and residents are increasing their opposition to nearby
mining activities. These concerns, together with depletion of the most
accessible coal deposits in the eastern United States, will result in a
shift in coal production.
Coal mining will increase in the central, and particularly the western, United States,
and decrease in the east. Overall, coal mining employment is expected to grow
by 4 percent as rising demand for coal is coupled with limited productivity
gains from more efficient and automated production
Employment in mining for metal ores is expected to decline by 10 percent
through 2018. Because metals are used primarily as raw materials by other
industries, such as telecommunications, construction, steel, aerospace and
automobile manufacturing, the strength of the metal ore mining industry is
greatly affected by the strength of these industries. Most metals are sold and
bought in a world market, so demand stems not only from domestic industries,
but also from fast-growing industries in developing countries. Demand from
these countries has caused prices for many metals to increase substantially in
recent years. This has caused U.S.
mining companies to expand production at existing mines and restart production
at some mines that were closed when low metal prices made them unprofitable.
However, in the long term, the potential stabilization of prices together with
many of the same environmental concerns as in coal mining will cause employment
in metal ore mining to decline.
Nonmetallic mineral mining should experience little change in employment.
Although demand will continue to increase for crushed stone, sand and gravel
used in construction activities, advances in mining technology will require
fewer workers for operation and maintenance of new mining machines. Like the
metal ore mining industry, the nonmetallic mineral mining industry is
influenced by the strength of the industries that use its outputs in the
manufacture of their products. Nonmetallic minerals are used to make concrete
and asphalt for road construction and also as materials in residential and
nonresidential building construction.
Transportation costs for stone, sand and gravel are high, so mining of these
materials is spread across the country, making it not as susceptible to
industry consolidation. This geographical spread, together with the small size
of many mines, also causes some mines to operate only during warm months. Many
workers laid off during the winter find jobs in other industries and must be
replaced when the mines reopen. Jobs in nonmetallic mineral mining attract many
migrant workers and those looking for summer employment.
Despite an overall decline in mining industry employment, there will be job
opportunities in most occupations due to the need to replace workers who leave
the industry. A large number of workers, particularly in the professional
occupations, will become eligible for retirement in the coming years, and some
companies may have trouble coping with the loss of many experienced workers to
retirement at a time when the industry is expanding production. At the same
time, past declines in employment in the industry have dissuaded potential
workers from considering employment in the industry, and many colleges and
universities have shut down programs designed to train professionals for work
in mining. Employment opportunities will be best for those with previous
experience and with technical skills, especially qualified professionals and
extraction workers who have experience in oilfield operations and who can work
with new technology.
Mining Topics: Mining Industry Employment Outlook
March 1, 2011