April 2, 2010

Students from Louisville Male High School received an educational experience they won't soon forget as they toured coal mine sites in Harlan County.

"There's a whole segment of the population that doesn't know where their energy comes from," said Shad Baker, Letcher County agriculture and natural resources agent with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and trip coordinator. "It's extremely important that students learn about their energy resources, including coal, because of their importance to the state and nation."

By offering access to information and experience, Cooperative Extension seeks to support the thoughtful analysis of complex and controversial issues, not to encourage one opinion or another.

The students were seniors in Angela Page's advanced placement environmental science class. To prepare for the trip, they researched coal mining and the issues surrounding it. Using information they gained from their research, the students had a class debate about the pros and cons of coal. They also kept up with news stories about the coal industry including mountaintop removal.

During their trip, the students toured both underground and surface mines. Topics discussed included the mining process, equipment, safety, regulations, energy production and the economic impact the industry has on the region and state. They also learned about the reclamation process as they toured reclaimed mine lands. To cap off the day, they visited the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum.

"This has been an eye-opening experience for me to see the other side," Page said. "The stuff I've read about coal mining has been very selective, and it was hard for the students to find pro-coal information when they were doing research."

The company gives very few tours during the year, and this was the first time it allowed high school students to tour its operations.

"We like to give tours to people who have no information about coal mining or have negative opinions about it," said Ross Kegan, vice president of operations for Black Mountain Resources. "It gives us an opportunity to explain our industry to people who may not otherwise have access to this information."

Male High School Senior Kylye Roberts said she learned a lot during the trip.

"I still have the same outlook about mining, but I feel like I can form an educated opinion about it now," she said.

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