Stunning photos show what it’s really like to work deep underground in an American coal mine – by James Pasley (Business Insider – October 5, 2019)

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.

Miners usually work shifts, and they can be on for 10 days in a row. Some head down before sunrise and return anywhere from seven to 12 hours later. Curtis Burton, 42, said at Cumberland Mine in Greene County, Pennsylvania, there are three eight-hour shifts, but each one ends up taking 10 hours, because of the two hours it takes to get to the site before miners can get to work.

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