The Availability of Coal

Posted on January 24th, 2011 by

Coal is America’s power.  It is our Nation’s most abundant and affordable energy resource.  Coal powers nearly half of America’s electricity – more than twice any other source – provides affordable electricity to millions of households and remains a vital energy source for keeping American industries competitive in a challenging global economy.  Upwards of 154,000 Americans owe their livelihood directly to coal; many thousands more – approximately 555,000—rely on coal to support their families and communities.

Precise estimates of U.S. coal reserves vary slightly but federal and industry assessments agree that at present rates of use the U.S. has at least a 240-year supply of coal – in fact, the deepest coal reserves of any country in the world.  Of the world’s estimated total coal reserves of 826 billion tons, the U.S. has approximately 238.3 billion, substantially greater than Russia, the next biggest coal country, with 157 billion tons.  Significant reserves of coal are found in 38 states and underlie nearly half a million square miles, or about 13 percent of the nation’s land mass.  The largest deposits are found in the Powder River Basin extending through Montana and Wyoming, in the Illinois Basin that includes Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, and throughout the six Appalachian states.  Important deposits are also found in Texas, North Dakota, Michigan and Alabama as well as in Alaska.

The amount of energy locked up in U.S. coal deposits testifies to the value of coal as an American resource.  On a BTU-equivalent basis, American coal represents a greater energy source than all of the oil in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined.  As a result of Asia’s rapidly growing economies – particularly in China and India – the enormous deposits of U.S. coal are perhaps more valuable today than ever before.  This is largely explained by the growing demand for electricity among developing countries.  In six of the last seven years, global coal use for electricity surpassed all other fuels.  U.S. coal will also remain vital to developing countries like the U.S., where new communications technologies and their dynamic consumer applications and hybrid vehicles all represent new and growing demand for coal-based electricity.

Written by Luke Popovich, National Mining Association

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