Legislating for the skills shortage

At the end of June, the US House of Representatives approved an energy bill that contains provisions aimed at aiding the construction of coal-to-liquid (CTL) transportation fuel plants and supporting higher education mining and geology programmes. On June 29, the House approved the ‘Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act of 2006’ (H.R. 4761).

The bill establishes a grant programme to help cover costs associated with front-end engineering and design (FEED) work that is necessary to construct CTL facilities. “While CTL technology has been deployed in other countries for 50 years, oil price volatility has discouraged the construction of plants employing this technology in the US,” according to National Mining Association (NMA) President and CEO Kraig Naasz.

Naasz also noted that the bill’s education incentives will help address a “documented and troubling trend that has caused many of our nation’s learning institutions to eliminate or curtail their mining and geological engineering programmes.” He emphasized that such closures have become particularly troubling given the “dramatic increase in mineral production” that NMA members have been called upon to meet. “Today, fewer than 100 mining engineers graduate annually. To replace those reaching retirement we need to more than triple the number of graduates,” he said, adding that the bill will ensure that adequate funds are available to sustain mining and geological engineering programmes and to provide “critically important scholarship funds for students pursuing careers in these fields.”

The bill authorizes the use of funds from federal mineral receipts to support existing programmes at accredited petroleum and mining schools, applied geology and geophysics programmes, and to individuals pursuing degrees in a variety of mining and geology disciplines. The bill also includes a scholarship programme to help fund science and engineering disciplines needed to support the Department of the Interior.