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US Coal Production Falls To Lowest Levels Since 1986

The US has seen its coal production levels fall to their lowest levels since 1986, dropping 10% in 2015 as part of a longer downward-trend.

Figures published by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) earlier this month show that coal production has continued to decline since 2008, and in 2015 only reached (an expected) 900 million short tons (MMst), 10% lower than just the year before, and the lowest level since 1986, nearly 30 years prior.

Specifically, production from the Appalachian Basin fell the most in 2015, but lower natural gas prices and lower international demand for American coal is behind the country’s declining coal production figures.


Across America’s five major coal producing basins, the largest decline can be seen to be in the Central Appalachian Basin, due primarily to “difficult mining geology and high operating costs.” Specifically, production in the Central Appalachian Basin was 40% below its annual average (determined over 2010-2014).


The Northern Appalachian Basin, Rocky Mountain region, and Powder River Basin all saw their own production figures fall by between 10% and 20%.

Offsetting the trend somewhat, the Illinois Basin saw 8% higher production levels in 2015 over its annual average.

The majority of America’s coal production is filtered through to electricity generation (though coal exports also declined in 2015, especially to major coal export destinations such as Europe and China). However, with the decline in gas prices and the increase in renewable energy generation capacity, the demand for coal-generated electricity is slipping. In 2014, coal generated 39% of the country’s electricity, with natural gas generating 27% and renewables only generating 7%. With a bumper 2015, America’s renewable energy industry installed a lot of capacity — capacity that will only continue to grow in 2016 — which will have an almost one-for-one impact on coal’s generating and production figures when the EIA releases its 2015 statistics in the coming months.

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