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Energy & Utilities careers

Mining, Extraction & Gathering

What’s the difference between mining and extracting?

Digging things out of the ground is big business. We’re talking billions and billions of pounds here! The earth contains a lot of extremely useful and often outrageously expensive minerals, so the amount of time and effort dedicated to extracting them is quite remarkable.

Mining relates to ores and minerals, whereas extraction also includes the collection of gas and oil. Gathering occurs when gas and oil are amassed in wells in preparation for being processed and refined. Ores and other materials can usually be taken away from the site in a fairly straightforward manner; however this cannot be said for oil and gas, regardless of whether it is extracted onshore or offshore.

The destructive nature of extracting these materials means that there is often a big impact on the environment, both during and after the excavations. As such, it is a very complicated and expensive process.

Why is it necessary to mine or extract materials?

If we weren’t busy mining, extracting and gathering minerals and other geological materials, the world would literally grind to a halt. For a start, anything involving petrol is gone. Cars, planes, buses and virtually any other form of transport would immediately become redundant. Electricity would fail everywhere and women’s engagement ring fingers would be festooned with ringlets of grass and twigs rather than the obligatory diamond.

Mining is a pretty old business. People have been doing it since pre-historic times, chipping away at stone, metal and any other useful substance. As for the process itself, everything begins with the process of prospecting for ore. Once assessed, if the deposit is big enough to generate a lot of cash, the heavy machinery moves in, scoops it all out and reclamation of the land ensues.

Things can often get a little more complicated when it comes to oil and gas. Both are usually found ‘trapped’ between porous sandstone and non-porous rock such as limestone. In other words, it’s a tricky business trying to drill in between these layers to hit the spot you want. Go a bit too far and you’re collecting salt water. Fall short and all you’ll collect is thin air.

Who is involved in the mining process?

A huge amount of engineers, site managers, miners and technicians are required for this area of the energy and utilities industry. These guys might be working in a variety of specialist areas, so keep reading to find out more!

What is the mining process?

In order to start mining a material, you firstly need to find it. This is a massive process, with companies literally hunting all over the world for the next big oil deposit, ore body or coal seam. One big discovery can mean billions and billions of pounds, so this aspect of extraction alone is a huge industry. Once you’ve marked a big fat X on your map, the serious stuff begins.

There are two types of mining techniques used at this point: subsurface mining and surface mining. The large majority of minerals are picked up by surface mining, which accounts for around 80% of all yields. There are two categories at this point, which are placer and lode deposits. Placer deposits are minerals that are found within beach sands or river gravels, whereas lode deposits are found in ‘veins’, i.e. minerals locked inside masses of rock.

Subsurface mining is the trickiest process of the two, as you might imagine. Tunnels and shafts need to be built in order to reach ‘the goods’. Drilling is a more straight forward approach to getting further underground; however as recent events attest in the Gulf of Mexico, oil and gas extraction can present huge and potentially unmanageable problems.

What is the extraction process?

When it comes to oil and gas extraction, operators drill a well to puncture the limestone layer. As the gas and oil is usually under a great amount of pressure it flows up naturally. The pressure can eventually diminish with time though, so wells are often pumped with gas or water to ‘re-pressurise’ the well.

If all this ‘fluorite’ over your head, then maybe this isn’t for you. However, if you get your rocks off to geology and can suppress a giggle at technical terms like ‘cleavage’, then perhaps you should check out jobs in the energy industry or read up on the following occupations: