SIC 1481

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in the removal of overburden, strip mining, and other services for nonmetallic minerals, except fuels, for others on a contract or fee basis. Establishments primarily engaged in providing geophysical exploration services for metal mines are covered in SIC 1081: Metal Mining Services. Establishments primarily engaged in performing oil and gas field geological exploration services are covered in SIC 1382: Oil and Gas Field Exploration Services.

NAICS Code(s)

213115 (Support Activities for Non-metallic Minerals, (except Fuels))

541360 (Geophysical Surveying and Mapping Services)

In addition to performing contracted strip mining and overburden removal, industry firms perform general non-testing drilling and blasting, miscellaneous mining services, and prospect and test drilling. Industry firms also offer geophysical exploration services, sink mine shafts, and drain and pump mines—all on a contract basis and all within the nonmetallic minerals mining industry. However, almost 60 percent of the industry's total receipts derive from for-contract mineral services performed by firms classified as mining rather than mining services companies and from industry firms too small to be canvassed by the Bureau of the Census. Among the largest firms in the industry in 2004 was GZA Drilling Inc. of Brockton, Massachusetts, a subsidiary of privately owned GZA Geo Environmental Technologies Inc.

The U.S. nonmetallic minerals mining industry was traditionally considered highly capital intensive. Before a mining firm could begin to consider establishing a mine at a site suggested as potentially viable by geological literature and maps, a complex range of activities had to be undertaken to ensure that a workable deposit of economically viable mineral existed at the location. Extensive exploratory and assessment activities were conducted; highly detailed maps were made of the prospective deposit; and costly and sophisticated equipment was brought in to test, dig, develop, work, and maintain the mining operation. Because most costs at a mine are fixed, the more ore that can be processed lowers the producer's total cost per ton. High-volume, highly efficient mineral extraction is thus crucial, and contractors in the mineral services industry play a key role in this process. Because smaller mining firms either did not have the capital resources to perform exploration and extraction activities or wished to restrict themselves to the operational side of mining, they turned to independent contractors who specialized in the techniques and technologies of mineral geophysics and mine engineering to perform a broad range of mining support activities.

Projects performed by these nonmetallic minerals service contractors prior to the actual working of a mine included analyzing the surface geology for outcroppings or other indications of the underlying mineral, as well as conducting geophysical surveying or mapping operations using aerial photography, satellite imagery, or seismic, gravitational, magnetic, electric, or other methods of geological analysis. Drilling or boring test shafts (usually with an electrical, gas-powered, or pneumatic diamond drill) helped determine if a "showing" of a desired mineral was actually and extensively located at the site. The extracted cores or "cuttings" from these tests were used to gauge the quality, subsurface shape and variation, depth of overburden (unwanted mineral, soil, or rock covering the deposit), geographical extent, and potential processability of the mineral at a deposit.

When the precise range and nature of the deposit was documented, nonmetallic minerals service firms might also be contracted to develop the mine by sinking shafts, boring mine tunnels, stripping and removing overburden, or blasting the deposit face with explosives to dislodge the mineral from underground, an open pit, or a shallow strip mine. Industry firms might also be retained to perform the actual mining of the mineral or to develop or maintain the mine.

For example, many mines suffered from accumulation of subsurface water, surface runoff, or water associated with the mining operation itself. Industry contractors were often hired to install the draining or pumping infrastructure to prevent water from entering the operation and clear the mine of existing water levels. This facet of the industry activity alone could necessitate the installation and operation of a drainage system so complex that computer planning software would be required to assess the viability of networks containing as many as 20 drainage pumps, 50 regulators, and numerous line segments, valves, and fittings.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the nonmetallic minerals services industry continued to benefit from advances in sensing, automation, and computer technology. New unmanned "walking machines" loaded with cameras, sensors, and measuring equipment have enabled researchers to explore inhospitable terrain remotely and may prove to have applications in the field of mineral exploration. Space-age sensing and mapping technology have also enabled scientists to search for mineral deposits with much greater sensitivity and speed. The staggering growth in the power of computer microprocessors has also allowed scientists to collate and analyze enormous volumes of data about mineral structures, hazards, and resources that previously would have taken years to gather. Computer-controlled X-ray diffractometers can now determine a mineral's structure within a matter of minutes. The rapid advances in laser range-finding technology, three-dimensional digital mapping software, computer-aided design programs, and data acquisition and processing systems promised to give the mineral services industry new opportunities to provide the mining industry with precise data about the volume of material extracted, scrap volumes, topographical features of a deposit, and a host of other factors.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nonmetallic minerals services industry employed approximately 1,030 people in the early 2000s. Employees earned an average wage of $15.15 per hour. Construction and extraction workers made up the largest segment of employees, accounting for 65 percent and earning an average hourly wage of $15.28. Office and administrative support personnel accounted for nearly 12 percent of industry employees and earned an average hourly wage of $12.49. Managers accounted for another 6 percent of total industry employees, as did both transportation and material moving workers and installation, maintenance, and repair workers. Managers earned an average of $29.61 per hour; installation maintenance and repair workers, $14.40 per hour; and transportation and material moving workers, $12.51 per hour.

SIC 1481 Nonmetallic Minerals Services, Except Fuels

Further Reading

"Bureau of Labor Statistics." 2001 National Industry-Specific Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates. Washington, DC: 2001. Available from .

"GZA Geo Environmental Technologies Inc." Business First of Buffalo, 5 February 2001.

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