UNDERWOOD — Teachers sat in the control room of a giant piece of coal mining machinery Wednesday, getting an up-close view of North Dakota’s lignite industry.
They were part of a group of more than 100 teachers from the region who toured North Dakota’s coal country through a teachers' seminar sponsored by the Lignite Energy Council.
One group of teachers toured a dragline — a piece of machinery nearly as tall as the North Dakota Capitol building — as crews operated it at the Falkirk Mine near Underwood.
Greg Dehne, engineering supervisor for Falkirk Mine, said the facility welcomes tour groups so the public can better understand the industry.
“When people think of coal, they think of dirt and pollution,” Dehne said. “We want to tell our story that we can mine the coal and we can do it safely and reclaim the land.”
Teachers from North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa and Saskatchewan are participating in the four-day seminar, representing states that are affected by electricity produced from North Dakota lignite coal.
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The goal of the program, in its 32nd year, is to raise awareness about the economic impact of the lignite industry as well as the workforce opportunities, said Kay LaCoe, membership marketing director for the Lignite Energy Council.
“The industry really needs teachers and parents to encourage those technical skills,” LaCoe said.
Molly Perkins, who teaches at Bismarck’s Sunrise Elementary, was already familiar with the coal industry because her dad works at Falkirk Mine. But the seminar taught her more about other aspects of the industry, including touring Great River Energy’s Coal Creek Station, which gets its coal from Falkirk Mine.
“I gained a lot of ideas to bring back to my classroom now,” Perkins said.
Dean Hagen, a welding instructor in Drake, said he now has more information to share with students about possible careers in the energy field.
“There’s a lot of opportunities, not just in the western part of the state, but in the middle of the state,” Hagen said.
Teachers also toured an electrical generating station, the nation’s first commercial-size coal gasification plant and saw land reclaimed after it was mined.