Mineral Engineer

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Mineral Engineer


A mineral is any naturally occurring inorganic substance, often characterized by an exact crystal structure. Gold, moonstone, sulfur, dolomite, salt gypsum, diamonds . . . these are just a few different examples of minerals and gem deposits that mineral engineers test and extract. Sometimes referred to as mining engineers, mineral engineers are responsible for the discovery and definition of resources, as well as the safe and efficient means of extraction and economical recovery of an immense variety of mineral wealth. They also study building materials, metals and fossil fuels. They organize and supervise the extraction of metallic or non-metallic ores from underground or surface mines and work with drill crews in the extraction process. Some mineral engineers work closely with mining engineers, geologists and metallurgical engineers to locate new ore deposits. Others develop new equipment or direct mineral processing operations to separate minerals from the dirt, rock and other materials with which they are mixed.

Once they become established, most mineral engineers specialize in a specific area such as mineral development or production. Also, mineral engineers frequently specialize in one particular mineral or metal, such as coal or alabaster. These specialists are experts within their area of mining and minerals and build themselves a reputation for a particular area.

With increased emphasis on protecting the environment, many mineral engineers work to solve problems related to land reclamation and water and air pollution. They also must devise environmentally sound refining methods and waste disposal systems. This is a huge challenge for the engineer because waste is a difficult issue to attend to. Also, mineral engineers may be responsible for helping to restore the land of the mine site when the mining operation has come to a close.

Before a mining or mineral operation begins, the mineral engineer must conduct important investigative work, often called mineral evaluation, about the feasibility of opening a mine. They assess the economic value of a potential property, looking at location and product yields, and provide information for financing and development. For example, if a potential coal mine site, located in a remote northern village has a greater risk of losing money than making a profit, a mineral engineer will probably advise against opening one due to the tremendous cost.

Mineral engineers use traditional and computer-aided design (CAD) systems to plan and run mineral operations. The CAD systems create realistic geometric models of objects which can simulate and analyze the effects and potential problems of designs such as breakdowns. They are required to constantly update their skills and knowledge in order to keep up with technological advancements in the mining field.
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  Interests and Skills  
Mineral engineers must have excellent communication and interpersonal skills because they constantly deal with technicians, scientists and business clients. They should have a natural aptitude for mathematics and science (especially chemistry and physics) and be able to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings, which is not an easy task.

They should be able to make quick, logical decisions, adapt from an office environment to a laboratory or mine site and be able to supervise and lead others.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Conduct preliminary surveys and studies of ore and mineral deposits to ascertain the economical and environmental feasibility of potential mining operations
  • Determine the most suitable means of safely extracting ore and minerals
  • Ensure that proper drilling and blasting techniques are used to ensure maximum yields
  • Refine minerals and ore in laboratories
  • Investigate methods of loading and unloading minerals at docks and railroad terminals
  • Supervise and train mineral workers with particular emphasis on environmental and safety rules
  • Coordinate the work of technologists and technicians
  • Mineral engineers usually split their working time between the office, the laboratory and on-site at mines, with an emphasis on more laboratory and office work. At mine sites, they are required to wear protective equipment such as safety boots, gloves, hard hats, glasses and hearing protection. They may also work in enclosed or high spaces, which can often be dirty and dusty. Since most mines are located in remote locations, mineral engineers must be prepared to travel and fly in and out to on-site work. Mineral engineers generally work nine to ten hour days and approximately 50-hour weeks. Longer hours and weekend shifts will be required when deadlines are nearing.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Mineral engineers often work where mineral deposits are located -- commonly near small isolated communities. However, mineral engineers can also commute from a city by plane to the mineral site. Also, those engaged in research, design, management, consulting or sales may work in metropolitan areas. Most mineral engineers do not work directly in mines.
  • Mineral engineers are most commonly employed by mining, metal, non-metal and coal companies, governments, equipment manufacturers, consulting companies, engineering contractors, research facilities and universities.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced mineral engineers may decide set up their own consulting businesses or partner up with geological and metallurgical engineers and open up a larger consulting firm that specializes in mining, metals and other gems. They can also become construction contractors, business mining analysts, geologists, move into a new speciality area of engineering or become teachers at a postsecondary institution with further education.

  Educational Paths  
While still in high school, if this is the career path you are interested in taking, make sure you take courses in mathematics and science. Most university programs will require these subject areas as prerequisites.

Mineral engineers require a bachelor's degree in mining or mineral engineering or in a related metallurgical engineering field. Then, they must also become registered as a professional engineer (PEng) within an association of professional engineers to secure employment and practice in their field. Some engineers also get master's degrees in a specific area, such as geological engineering.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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