Over the past several decades, coal production in the United States has been increasing at a fairly consistent rate that far exceeds the rate of population growth. In 1983, the US population was around 230 million people, which is about 3.3 tons of coal for each person in the country. By 2009, US population grew to 307 million but with the skyrocketing coal production, the US produced 3.9 tons of coal per person.
According to the 2009 U.S. Coal Supply and Demand information from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 93% of coal mined in the US is used domestically, and of that coal 94% is used in the production of electricity for the domestic market. Much of the coal-fired power plants are using decades old technology (some plants were build in 1950) that, because of grandfather clauses in Clean Air Act law, have only undergone minimal upgrades for their pollution control technology. When you hear “this isn’t your grandparent’s coal”, chances are, it really is.
The burning of coal, no matter the age of the furnace or use of the heat, still has serious environmental effects. Burning coal releases much larger quantities of greenhouse gases than other energy alternatives including natural gas. The “coal combustion waste” (CCW) or “coal ash” produced by the burning of coal is a solid waste that must be disposed of carefully. Ironically, as pollution control mechanisms have improved to pull more and more toxins out of the coal smoke, those recovered toxins are stored in the CCW, concentrating increasing amounts of heavy metals like lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium in the CCW. Yet disposal methods for CCW are only lightly regulated by the EPA as evidenced by the recent Kingston Coal Ash Spill and Nebraska using coal ash to melt river ice on the North Platte.
This system is designed to give you an overview of where coal is being mined in the United States. All the data has been compiled through the tireless efforts of OpenSourceCoal.org who have taken the data directly from the Department of Energy. At each level you can see historical rates of production for the portion of the United States that you’re looking at, and what fraction of that area’s productions are contributed by each of the subregions. For example, on this page you can see production for the United States as a whole from 1983 to 2009, as well as what fraction of the 2009 production was contributed by each of the three major coal regions in the US (as defined by the Department of Energy).
To “zoom in” and see more information about a particular production region, click on one of the links at the bottom of page and you’ll be taken to a new page with information about that specific region. The system will let you zoom in all the way down to production by the individual mines.
The Office of Natural Resources Revenue issued a proposed change to the regulations that govern the value of certain oil, gas, and coal production for royalty purposes.
Comments must be submitted on or before March 9, 2015.
To read the proposed regulation or comment, please go to:
January 7, 2015
Coal exports are down overall in the US, but planned production cuts are likely to offset the softening thermal coal market. Last winter the polar vortex offset some market conditions, but the US mines should stay competitive even in the absence of another extreme weather event.
While survivable, the current market conditions are less than ideal for US producers. The 2014 export total is anticipated to be around 97-98 million, the for 2014, with another 20% reduction anticipated in 2015.
Amidst this, Alpha Natural Resources has let their WARN notices expire at many surface mines without any layoff of workers.
January 5, 2014
Cloud Peak Energy really dislikes the U.S. Department of the Interior’s proposed regulation that would close a loophole in the way coal royalties are calculated. Cloud Peak, a Powder River Basin producer believes that the proposed regulation will have a chilling effect on the industry while adding to the regulatory burden.
Read more about the issue at: https://www2.snl.com/Interactivex/article.aspx?CdId=A-30444357-12082
October 13, 2014
The Wishbone Hill [Coal] Mine has been re-approved by the Alaska DNR to resume surface coal mining of the Wishbone Mine. It is approximately five miles west of Sutton, Alaska. In 1997, Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc. purchased the rights to the mining lease, the validity of which has been questioned by the federal Office of Mining and Surface Reclamation.
October 7, 2014
Consol Energy, Arch Coal, and Peabody Energy are all down one percent or more today at the 1 p.m.
See the numbers: http://www.cnbc.com/id/102067342
October 3, 2014
One of the largest coal mining companies in the United States, Alpha Natural Resources, Inc. has announced the layoff of 250 workers, with the promise that more layoffs are coming. The coal industry is often quick to blame the current Administration’s rules and environmentalists for the downturn. However, the hydraulic fracturing technology which has allowed energy companies to reach tough natural gas deposits is also to blame for the decline in coal mining.
James Stevenson, IHS Energy’s Director of North American Coal estimates that it is a “50/50 split” between regulation and the newfound availability of natural gas causing the decline. However in explaining the impact of markets versus regulations Stevenson cites that “the tipping point really has been caused by cheap gas.” This is because existing coal generation facilities are competitive or economically advantageous over gas units, but new and predicted regulations encourage old coal power plants to close and increase the expense of new coal fired power plants.
Some Coal Markets Analysts believe that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) have accelerated the closure of the coal fleet. However, analysts predict that remaining coal fired power plants will be “newer, more efficient and cleaner.” Stevenson notes that this decade will see stable retirements, but an acceleration will likely be observed in 2030.
In addition to the regulations and natural gas competition, Appalachian coal mines are seeing changes as a result of technologies that allow higher-sulfur coal to be competitive again with the higher grade coal generally produced in the Appalachia unit. Additional factors like mechanization, geologic constraints, and increased safety standards are to blame for the decrease in cost competitiveness of coal from the Appalachia unit, resulting in fewer jobs and a flagging industry. The higher grade metallurgical coals available in Appalachia will continue to be in demand, but a flagging demand for power supply coal will be noted in the future.
The Powder River Basin is also experiencing a production reduction, however the outlook for production in this this area is still potentially robust, if the coal can make it out of the country given concerns about environmental issues as related to transport in the Pacific Northwest.
Ulimately, analysts believe that for the medium and long term the outlook for energy production and steel (metallurgical coal is used in steel production) is robust.
Read more at: http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060006890
October 3, 2014
Today coal company stock prices have fallen at 1 p.m. Arch Coal and Peabody Energy both fell over four percent while Console Energy is down 1.6%.
See the numbers at: http://www.cnbc.com/id/102057870#.
September 24, 2014
Metallurgical and thermal coal markets remain weak causing coal companies to work aggressively to reduce operational costs and capital expenditures to stay afloat. Market analysts believe that the metallurgical coal market is weak due at least partially to a weak demand due to economic slowdowns in global markets and the depreciation of the Australian currency, which has lead the Aussies to maintain a high metallurgical coal production rate, flooding the market despite weak pricing.
September 19, 2014
Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) has renewed his call to suspend all sales of coal leases on federal land. The Senator first called for this suspension in February after the Government Accountability Office issued its report detailing failures by the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management. Some of the issues identified by the GAO include: sub-value sale of coal, sale without proper competitive bidding, and improper valuation of the coal. These problems, and other systemic problems with the coal leasing system have cost the taxpayers $30B over the past 30 year.
September 15, 2014
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has placed a hold on Ambre Energy Limited’s application to construct a barge loading terminal at the Port of Morrow in Oregon. Ambre proposed this facility to export coal mined in the Powder River Basin to asian markets to offset flagging domestic demand.
The proposed terminal has faced harsh criticism in Oregon, where some see the coal exports as a threat to the Columbia river and the communities situated near it.
March 24, 2014
Arch Coal suffered a set back today when the United States Supreme Court declined to hear their challenge to the Obama administration’s blockage of an environmental permit for the Spruce No. 1 mining project in West Virginia.
The EPA in an unprecedented move vetoed a permit for Arch Coal despite the fact that the Army Corps of Engineers had given approval for the mine. The permit would have allowed Arch Coal to discharge coal associated waste into local waterways. The case will now be returned back to the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
Read article at http://www.cnbc.com/id/101519586
See document at
February 4, 2014
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released findings related to coal leasing and the need for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to enhance the appraisal process. GAO found that the BLM consistently failed to explain the rationale for accepting bids for coal leasing on federal land that at least initially were far below the actual fair market value presale estimates.
The report stated that the state offices of the BLM did not allow independent review of these leasing agreements with coal companies. Additionally, GAO cited that the BLM failed to take advantage of an independent third party appraisal within the Department of the Interior (Office of Valuation of Services). Lastly, GAO was highly critical of the BLM’s failure to provide even limited information to the public on federal coal leasing.
Read article at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-140
See document at http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/659801.pdf
October 22, 2013
Michael Hendryx of West Virginia University recently released a report that highlights the severe emotional toll that the coal industry’s practice of mountaintop removal takes on the people living where these extraction tactics take place.
The study released showed that of 8,591 adults living in Central Appalachia, 17% of respondents in mountaintop removal mining areas suffered from major depression. This was compared with 10% of respondents diagnosed with major depression in non-mining areas.
See document at http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/eco.2013.0029
July 6, 2013
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently identified an increase in black lung disease among Kentucky coal miners. In 1969, 40 percent of seasoned miners had black lung but with the passage of the 1969 mining act, the prevalence from 1995 to 1999 had dropped to 2 percent.
However NIOSH recently reported that from 2005 to 2009, 9 percent of Eastern Kentucky miners had developed black lung. Some of the reasons being attributed are shifts of 10 to 12 hours in the mines; poorly designed dust control regulations; more cutting through rock in thinner coal seams; and the coal industry’s failure to follow these regulations to protect coal miner safety.
National Center for Environmental Assessment, Ofﬁce of Research and Development, EPA/600/R-10/023F, www.epa.gov/ncea, March 2011
This report describes a method to characterize the relationship between the extirpation (the effective extinction) of invertebrate genera and salinity (measured as conductivity) and from that relationship derives a freshwater aquatic life benchmark. This benchmark of 300 µS/cm may be applied to waters in Appalachian streams that are dominated by calcium and magnesium salts of sulfate and bicarbonate at circum-neutral to mildly alkaline pH.
Improving EPA Review of Appalachian Surface Coal Mining Operations Under the Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and the Environmental Justice Executive Order. Published July 21, 2011.
May 31, 2011
The results of the April 2011 MSHA “impact” inspections have been announced, resulting in a total of 161 citations and orders being issued against eight different coal mining operations. All cited mines were in the eastern region of the US, including Shoemaker and Randolph in West Virginia, the No. 2 and #68 mines in Kentucky, as well as one mine in each of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama.
Among the worst offenders in the sweep were the Vision Coal’s No. 2 mine, which received 37 citations and orders that documented (among other things) that Vision wasn’t properly drilling bore holes to test for methane, and that it was creating a risk of a collapse by not following its ceiling reinforcement plan. Inman Energy’s Randolph mine received 25 citations, 21 of which were the most serious “S&S” citations indicating an immediate danger to the mining crew. The impact inspections grew out of an increased enforcement push by MSHA after the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine. Impact inspections target mines that have a history of violations.
Read article at http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2011/05/31/msha-announces-results-of-latest-inspection-sweeps/ and http://www.wfpl.org/2011/06/01/two-kentucky-mines-cited-in-msha-inspections/. Read MSHA press release at http://www.msha.gov/MEDIA/PRESS/2011/NR110531.asp See the list of inspected mines at http://coaldiver.org/documents/master-inspection-list-targeted-enforcement-msha-april-2011
The following documents are a leaked draft proposal for new coal mining rules to try and help decrease mining’s environmental impacts. Obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Ken Ward, Jr. of the Charleston Gazette, they provide a very early glimpse at what the rules might be.
A list of the mines inspected and citations issued in the November 2010 push by MSHA to reinspect mines with a pattern of violations.
Coal mines included on the list were:
List of the second group of mines notified that they are on the Potential Pattern of Violations list. Published November 11, 2010.