CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Coal mining officials and product manufacturers say the future of the industry is still looking strong in the Mountain State as new technology and safety innovations, as well as more advanced ways at producing coal are helping to fuel its way forward.

Local, state, and federal mining industry experts came together to network and share ideas Tuesday for the 50th annual West Virginia Mining Symposium.

Hosted by the West Virginia Coal Association, the two-day event– being held Tuesday, March 26 and Wednesday, March 27 at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center– brought in a number of featured guest speakers to give remarks on behalf of the mining industry, including Governor Jim Justice, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, WV DEP Secretary Harold Ward, WV Public Energy Authority Director Nick Preservati, among several others.

Event spokesperson and Publisher of North American Mining Magazine, Peter Johnson, told MetroNews that the two-day symposium was all about the ways to keep the state’s leading industry going.

“It’s educational, it’s networking, it’s bringing people together, and it’s very important to keep the coal industry going, because, it’s a fuel that’s not going to go away, there will always be a demand for coal,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that due to the ever-increasing scope of alternative forms of energy production, the future of coal and its leading uses have been under question and in a state of transition for quite some time now. However, he said much of the transition within the industry still involves coal, but another growing way of producing and utilizing the fossil fuel.

Johnson said the coal burned to make electricity, or thermal coal, has faced more of a challenge in most recent years with the resurgence and demand of metallurgical coal, which is coal used in the process of creating coke necessary for iron and steel-making.

According to the WV Coal Association, the state is leading the way in metallurgical coal production as the nation’s largest contributor, and that U.S. steel production relies on West Virginia’s met coal-making industry which provides $40 million in the nation’s labor income.

Johnson said that future prospects of the coal industry looks good despite the challenges, as he says it’s a resource which will always be needed for something, even if it’s no longer used for generating electricity.

“It’s an industry that’s not going away, it goes up and down, it always has, and our feeling is that, the demand for coal, although it’s cyclical, will be pretty solid for the next 10 to 15 years, and after that we just don’t know,” Johnson said.

The symposium was also featuring its first trade show which brought in a total of 130 different exhibiting companies displaying the latest mining tools, technology and safety innovation products and services. Many of those exhibiters were saying that what their companies are manufacturing are also helping to lead the coal mining industry into the future.

Jim Atterberry with Paul’s Fans Company, which manufactures mining ventilation fans, said as long as there are underground mines, there will always be a need for these fans.

He said the mining fans draw fresh air in from the outside into the underground mine, allowing it to suck out potentially dangerous dust and methane gases, and keeps the mine circulated.

Atterberry said the fans are crucial in paving the way for increased safety standards in the mines, and helps prevent catastrophes.

“In coal mines, if you don’t get the dust and the methane out of the air, you’ve heard of coal mining explosions, this is what keeps that from happening, it keeps that air flushed out and keeps the gas out of the mine, helps keep the coal dust carried out, too,” said Atterberry.

Another company set up at the mine symposium was IWT, or Innovative Wireless Technologies. They work with mining companies requiring wireless communications, whether for voice, text messaging, location data, wireless gas monitoring, or other types of data within the mine, and are the leading provider of mine rescue systems to many companies around the country.

IWT Director of Sales and Business Development, Gary Sergent told MetroNews that their focus is about leading the way when it comes to providing wireless safety technology to underground miners.

“Allowing them to have better communications, better location services to know where they are in a time of an emergency, being able to get them help faster, so that is one of our key components,” he said.

He said they are adding a mobile proximity detection system for shuttle cars in the mines this year, as well as continuing to advance in data analytics.

Sergent said he too is feeling optimistic about the future of the coal mining industry.

“It’s really good to see that mining has been on an upward trend, I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon, society changes for electric vehicles and every other thing around the world, and the world still needs coal to power it and keep things moving,” said Sergent.