In August 2007, amidst hourly updates on the fate of six coal miners trapped by a Utah mine collapse, word of another mine accident emerged—this time from the Hoosier State. Three workers in the Gibson Mine descending into an air shaft they were building fell more than 500 feet to their death when the bucket lowering them was somehow upset. The mine, operated by the Gibson County Coal Company in Princeton, is one of seven active underground mines in Indiana, all of which are clustered in the southwestern corner of the state.
The concentration of bituminous coal deposits in this area was found to be so significant that, at the turn of the twentieth century , Gibson County’s slogan was “The Home of Coal, Gas, and Oil”. With recent yields of almost 32 million metric tons a year, Indiana is still the nation’s ninth producer of coal—which largely goes to fuel electric power plants. Most of Indiana’s coal these days, however, is extracted from the earth’s surface—a practice known as strip-mining. Underground mining reached its peak in the 1920’s, when the state’s deepest and largest all-mechanical mine was the Deep Vein Mine, operated by the Princeton Mining Company. Along with Clabber Girl Baking Soda and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Princeton Mining Company represents another concern in which the Hulmans of Terre Haute were substantially invested.
Opened in the year 2000, the Gibson Mine is considered the second-largest coal producer in Indiana, and the fourth-largest in the eastern United States. Owned by Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Alliance Resource Partners, the mine 30 miles north of Evansville has capacity of 700 tons an hour, and had not seen a fatal accident since 2001. According to information published by the Indiana Bureau of Mines, coal production has risen 83 percent nationally since 1970, while fatalities have dropped by 92 percent.
Although Indiana is one of the nation’s significant sources for coal, many cite the relatively high sulfur content of the coal mined in the state as a drawback. Current federal air pollution control standards require coal to be “scrubbed” of sulfur before it is burned—a process that increases the costs associated with using Indiana coal.