Hard Coal Facts

Hard Coal Facts

Perception vs. reality: A look at the numbers

by Art Shechet

After a century of a coal economy and its exploitation of natural resources and human capital, Eastern Kentucky is looking for its future. Any future. An eminent group of the same old, same olds has been charged with leading the efforts to find Eastern Kentucky’s future. Right. The economic devastation and depopulation of Eastern Kentucky due, in large part, to the decline of King Coal is a very big story that impacts us in our little Eden of Central Kentucky.

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Annual Coal Production (million tons)  (Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet)

Year Eastern Kentucky Western Kentucky Total
2003 91.3 21.5 112.8
2004 90.9 23.4 114.3
2005 93.3 26.4 119.7
2006 93.6 27.2 120.8
2007 87.1 28.2 115.3
2008 90.3 30.1 120.4
2009 74.9 32.9 107.8
2010 68.2 36.9 105.1
2011 67.9 41.0 108.9
2012 49.2 42.0 101.2
2013 39.8 40.8 80.6

Eastern Kentucky Coal Field Total Production (tons) is DECREASING

Eastern Kentucky has experienced precipitous declines in coal mine employment over the past couple of years, whereas employment in mines in Western Kentucky has been essentially stable (Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet).  The story of the “War on Coal “is largely the story of the tapping out of the Eastern Kentucky coalfields due to many factors.  And it is also surely the story of decades of failure to plan for this inevitable day.

See what the CEO of Peabody Energy had to say in this excerpt from a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ, January 7, 2014)

Coal companies say Appalachian coal has become too expensive to mine. Ten years ago, Peabody Energy, the nation’s largest coal producer, decided to move west and overseas. “It all comes down to geology,” says Chief Executive Greg Boyce. “You’ve got a district [in the East] that’s been mined for 100, 120 years; conditions were difficult.”

Average Number of Employees at Coal Mines in the United States, by Primary Activity, 1979-1988

From 1979 to 1988 employment dropped very substantially, due to many factors including advances in mining technology and equipment. Reagan certainly could not be accused of a war on coal. To put a fine point on it, this question shows how data can be twisted and turned to serve any purpose if not analyzed closely and understood.

Year Underground Mines Surface Mines
  Underground Surf at UG Total Strip Auger Culm Bank Dredge Total
1979 132,928 15,997 148,925 73,244 636 362 44 74,286
1980 127,169 15,480 142,649 70,776 584 360 70 71,790
1981 121,702 15,603 137,305 72,062 793 342 120 73,317
1982 118,760 14,115 132,875 69,972 597 409 111 71,089
1983 89,803 11,681 101,484 63,306 592 363 114 64,375
1984 93,554 11,823 105,377 67,622 563 368 120 68,673
1985 89,073 11,959 101,012 62,516 628 382 126 63,652
1986 82,643 11,513 94,156 59,404 611 479 109 60,603
1987  75,297 10,502 85,799 56,886 884 516 169 58,455
1988 71,775 10,194 81,969 54,753 910 486 186 56,335

Source: Kentucky Geological Survey