Americans are consuming less and less dairy, swapping in sodas, juices, and milk substitutes for the traditional cream the milkman used to deliver every morning, and it’s having an effect on the dairy industry. Borden Dairy, a milk-producing giant filed for bankruptcy in January of 2020 and is currently undergoing reorganization, only a few months after Dean Foods declared bankruptcy in 2019.
Petroleum, jet fuel, gasoline, diesel, kerosene—we’re hooked on oil. It powers our cars, delivers our Amazon packages, heats our homes, and gives us the freedom to travel the globe. In just over century, we’ve transformed plodding horse-drawn carriages into superfast Ferraris: Fossil fuels have revolutionized our lives.
And yet, the average American knows relatively little about that black gold we call oil.
The year: 1869. The place: Promontory Summit, an elevated area in the great territory of Utah, which wouldn’t become a state for another 27 years. The event? Track-laying crews from Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads hammering in the last iron spike, marking the official completion of the first U.S. transcontinental railroad. Just like that, travelers could cross from one ocean to the other in just seven days—a voyage that previously took four months.
Travel ain’t cheap-ask anyone with a bad case of wanderlust. So, when it comes to shipping consumer goods, rail and truck are by far the most cost-efficient options. But in an ever-shrinking world where consumers ask for mangos in Alaska or expect their heirlooms to be overnighted, the demand for air freight services is on the rise.
Humans have been mining for thousands of years. Literally, thousands of years. Gold, chalk, silver, ore—we have been dependent on valuable minerals for longer than we can remember. But today’s mines look nothing like those of ancient Egypt—or even those of 50 years ago—thanks to steady improvements in technology. With each advancement, the mining process has improved, becoming safer, more efficient, and more cost effective than before.
If the past is any indication, the industry will only continue to innovate new and better ways to mine materials. Today’s trends lead to tomorrow’s breakthroughs, so let’s take a look at what might be in store.
Here’s a number that might surprise you: it takes roughly 260 gallons of water to produce one ton of coal. That same amount of water is enough to run a dishwasher 86 times, flush a toilet 175 times, or meet one person’s recommended daily fluid intake for almost an entire year.
So, what’s all that water being used for in the mines? Almost every step of the process—from managing dust to transporting coal—relies on water in some form or another.
Photo courtesy of iStock/SergeyZavalnyuk
Hydromonitor at a mining site.
For the average Joe, the word “mining” might spark an image of old-timey workers, covered in soot and dirt, picks slung over their shoulders and helmets on their heads. Others might recall the legendary gold-rush stories of our school days, picturing the determined men and women who sought a bonanza in the streams of California.
Neither idea is particularly accurate when it comes to today’s miners.
Despite the fact that we depend on gasoline to get us from point A to point B, few of us could say how that liquid gets from the ground to our gas tanks. We buy milk from the store; we get fuel from a gas station: simple! But the milk wasn’t made in the store, nor the gas at your local ExxonMobil, so how did it get there?
Let’s start with the basics—of gasoline that is, not milk.
Once upon a time, American families would wake up in the morning to fresh milk waiting on their front stoop. Dedicated milkmen delivered that delicious liquid to growing boys and girls everywhere, making it no longer necessary to keep a cow in the backyard. Today, milk delivery has all but disappeared, with a meager 0.4 percent of consumers still paying for this service. But never fear: the milkmen of yesteryear are still hard at work hauling milk, just in a different capacity.
We all have a vague sense of oil: it comes from the ground, is changed into a useful fuel source or petrochemical, and eventually benefits our lives. Oil headlines regularly splash across the news, and we notice when gas prices fluctuate.
But what does the average American actually know about the refining process itself? In truth, we probably know more about cooking oils than we do about crude ones.