With deaths in the nations coal mines at a five-year high, West Virginia University is taking a critical step toward making the industry safer by offering a dual degree in geology and mining engineering.

The program combines the resources and expertise of the Department of Mining Engineering in the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources with those of the Department of Geology and Geography in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

Graduates will have broad knowledge that will enhance mining safety, ensure more environmentally sound practices and broaden their career opportunities.

Geology and mining engineering faculty at WVU have often worked together on collaborative research efforts,said Tom Wilson, associate chair of the Department of Geology and Geography.Geological assessment and mining engineering efforts have always been closely intertwined.

Our combined efforts are becoming even more critical to safe and environmentally sound mining practices,Wilson added.The dual degree program will produce professionals who will provide valuable insight and perspectives on a wide spectrum of issues that face the mining industry in this state and wherever coal is an important energy resource.

In the past year, 33 American miners have died in mine accidents, including 12 who perished at West Virginias Sago Mine after a January explosion. The 33 fatalities to date are the most in the nations mines in a year since 2001, when 42 miners died, according toU.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration records.

Geology plays an important role in modern coal mining,said Syd Peng, chair of the Department of Mining Engineering.A mining engineer should have a strong background in geology to appreciate its critical role in understanding mine stability, thereby ensuring safe and high mine production. On the other hand, a geologist needs training in mining engineering in order to better communicate with mining engineers.”

Mine product quality control starts with pre-mining geological assessment,said Felicia Peng, associate professor of mining engineering.Combining a geological understanding of mining and mineral deposits with the knowledge of a mining engineer will prepare students to develop better and safer mine management and environmental plans.

Coal accounts for nearly a quarter of the nations primary energy production, with 1.1 billion short tons of coal produced annually by U.S. mines, according to the American Geological Institute. Additionally, coal is used to produce half of the nations electric power, and that percentage is expected to go up, increasing the demand for coal and qualified mining professionals.

Coal is plentiful in West Virginia and will remain critical to the states future economic development,Wilson said.This program will help ensure that mining activities in West Virginia and other coal mining areas throughout the Appalachians and the United States, as well as worldwide, will continue to develop in safe and environmentally sound ways.

The curriculum for the new program is available athttp://www.wvu.edu/~facultys/406EA5.pdf.

For more information, contact Wilson at Tom.Wilson@mail.wvu.edu or Felicia.peng@mail.wvu.edu in the Department of Mining Engineering.