Stunning photos show what it's really like to work deep underground in an American coal mine
- In the US, coal mining is a shrinking industry. In 1923, there were about 883,000 coal miners; today there are about 53,000.
- Working in coal mines is dangerous - miners have to deal with toxic gases, plus the threat of being crushed, drowned, or injured from fires and explosions.
- Some miners love it. It can be a family tradition, it's exciting, and the pay is usually pretty good. When a mine closes, miners would often rather work in another mine elsewhere than retrain.
- Curtis Burton, a 42-year-old coal miner, who spent 17 years working in mines, told Business Insider what the job is like.
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Coal mining is dark, dirty, and dangerous work.
It's not for everyone - it's for the few who love to descend into the bowels of the Earth to extract "black gold." Even as they face the risk of mines collapsing, or catching on fire, or the long term health threats like black lung.As Curtis Burton, who spent the last 17 years working in or for coal mines in Pennsylvania, told Business Insider, coal mining is a hard job, but it's also entirely unique. "Every day you're seeing a part of the earth nobody else is seeing ever," he said.
Coal currently fuels just under 40% of the world's electricity. It's the most polluting fossil fuel, but it's also cheap and relatively plentiful. In the US, natural gas and renewables are replacing it as the top energy sources, even as President Donald Trump has promised to bring coal mining back.
Asia has the most coal mines operating today, with 1,200. The area is responsible for 75% of the world's consumption. Coal mines are also booming in Australia, which earns about $67 billion in annual exports from them.
Here's what life working in coal mines is really like.