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Reply #15

Response to dlwickham (Original post)

Thu Nov 15, 2012, 05:40 PM

15. Given that Peak Coal, in energy terms, was in 2002 in the USA, could it just be uneconomical to mine?

This is based on the following report, which points out that US Coal production, in terms of ENERGY, peaked in 1998 even while total coal production in terms of tonnage increased. Furthermore the quality of the coal has declined since the 1990s, in that the coal being mined TODAY, has much lower energy content then the coal mined 20 years ago AND THIS DECLINE IN QUALITY WILL CONTINUE.

Now, the mines being closed in West Virginia is high energy bituminous mines but it is NOT Pittsburgh Seam Coal. These mines are SOUTH of the Pittsburgh seam of Coal. Running from Pittsburgh Pa and runs about a quarter of the way through West Virginia. The "Pittsburgh Horizon" extends down to Southern West Virginia, but this is considered inferior to the actual Pittsburgh Seam. This important for when it comes to coal for Steel Making you want Pittsburgh Seam. A lot of Pittsburgh Seam Coal is exported, even while Pittsburgh and the rest of Western Pennsylvania import lignite coal for electrical generation.

In the following report it is mentioned that given the lower quality of coal from the west, coal fired Electrical generation plants have had to change HOW they operate to work with the less energy intensive coal now being used, Thus these mines may be in a bind, to high an energy content to burn with the Lignite coal from the west, but NOT good enough for export as Pittsburgh Seam (Pittsburgh Horizon Coal tend to have to high amount of Ash and Sulfur compared to the actual Pittsburgh Seam).

With the reported decline in overall coal productivity due to the mines having to be deeper (and even in Strip mines, the deeper the mine, the higher the cost to keep production up), these mines may no longer be profitable to operate. The old "to poor" (Not Pittsburgh Seam) and "to rich" (Not Lignite).

Here is a map of Pennsylvania Coal, the Pittsburgh Seam is the lower half of the Yellow. The upper half is the Freeport Seam of coal, generally considered inferior to Pittsburgh Seam:

Here is a map of the Pittsburgh Seam, please note this map is more what is called the "Pittsburgh Horizon" which is how far the seam goes, but the quality declines once you are about a 1/4 of the way into West Virginia. On the USGS cite, below, the PDF file has several map showing the difference. Dark Gray for the Pittsburgh Seam, light gray for the rest of the "Pittsburgh Horizon" of coal:


Despite two centuries of mining, about 16 billion short tons of resources remain, with the largest remaining block in southwestern Pennsylvania and adjacent areas of West Virginia. Much of the remaining resource to the south of Marion County, W. Va., and west through much of Ohio is high in ash and sulfur, and is not likely to be extensively mined in the near future given current economic trends.


The following report uses a different definition of "Hard Coal" then is normal in the US. In this report "hard coal" is bituminous and sub-bituminous coals, which in common US usage are "Soft Coals". Hard coal in US Usage is Anthracite, a coal NOT even mentioned in this report except in the annex for the US. Anthracite is much rarer then the three types of coal used in the report, Lignite, bituminous and sub-bituminous coal and while NOT restricted to the US, its has been mostly mined in the US EAST of the Appalachian mountains.


Page 6:

The USA, being the second largest producer, already passed peak production of high quality coal in 1990 in the Appalachian and the Illinois basin. Production of sub-bituminous coal in Wyoming more than compensated for this decline in terms of volume and – according to its stated reserves – this trend can continue for another 10 to 15 years. However, due to the lower energy content of sub-bituminous coal, US coal production in terms of energy already peaked 5 years ago – it is unclear whether this trend can be reversed. Also specific productivity per miner has been declining since about 2000.

About 60 percent of US reserves are located in the three states of Illinois, Wyoming and Montana. Illinois and Montana show no signs of expanding their production which has remained at low levels or even declined for two decades. There are a number of possible reasons for this: low quality coal, political opposition because of competing land use and environmental issues, overestimated coal reserves because of poor geological data or a weaker definition of “proven”.

Page 30:

A more detailed analysis reveals that in the USA the era of high quality coal is nearing its end and the efforts to produce the coal are steadily increasing. The following figure A-4 shows coal production rates since 1950, distinguishing between anthracite, bituminous, sub-bituminous and lignite. Anthracite production has been steadily declining since 1950, from 5.5 million tons in 1950 to 1.5 million tons in 2005. Bituminous coal production has also been declining since about 1990. But total coal production has still been rising by about 20 million tons per year since 1960. This increase seems to have flattened out somewhat since 1998 but is still rising reaching its maximum in 2005.

Since 1970 lower quality sub-bituminous and low quality lignite have been contributing with rising volumes. The growing share of lower quality coal is the reason why total coal production in terms of energy content peaked in 1998 at 598.4 Mtoe and has since declined to 576.2 Mtoe in 2005 in spite of the continuous rise in produced volumes (BP 2006).

Page 32:

The declining coal quality is not only due to a steady shift towards sub-bituminous and lignite. Also within each class, the quality is declining.

Another aspect is the productivity of the US coal industry in terms of produced tons per miner. Until the year 2000, productivity steadily increased for all types of coal produced covering surface and subsurface mining. But since then productivity has declined by about 10% (see the figure below). The decline in productivity can only be explained by the necessity of rising efforts in production. This might be due to deeper digging and/or to a higher level of waste production. Are these already indications for the era of "easy coal" drawing to a close?

Energy information Agency (IEA) on coal:


Remember in 2011, Wyoming produced three times as much coal as West Virginia, in fact almost 1/2 of all US Coal is mined in Wyoming:

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Arrow 16 replies Author Time Post
dlwickham Nov 2012 OP
Hubert Flottz Nov 2012 #1
ChairmanAgnostic Nov 2012 #2
Hubert Flottz Nov 2012 #4
WCGreen Nov 2012 #3
dlwickham Nov 2012 #5
WCGreen Nov 2012 #6
dlwickham Nov 2012 #7
WCGreen Nov 2012 #8
Kolesar Nov 2012 #12
WCGreen Nov 2012 #16
Uncle Joe Nov 2012 #9
dlwickham Nov 2012 #10
Kolesar Nov 2012 #11
HiPointDem Nov 2012 #13
ancianita Nov 2012 #14
LineNew Reply Given that Peak Coal, in energy terms, was in 2002 in the USA, could it just be uneconomical to mine?
happyslug Nov 2012 #15
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