Published on April 21st, 2016 | by Joshua S Hill


2016 Coal Production Levels To Drop To 1958 Levels, According To EIA

April 21st, 2016 by  

US coal production in March continued the industry’s startlingly sharp drop, sinking down 4% on February’s already low figures.

Reports have been surfacing for the past six months, revealing just how quickly the United States is parting ways with coal. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported in January that coal production in 2015 had dropped to its lowest levels since 1986, down 10% on 2014 levels to produce only 900 million short tons. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) followed this up in April with a report of its own which showed that US coal production is running 30% below the same period a year earlier, reflecting “an historic shift in both the coal industry and the electric power sector it serves.”

Published earlier this month, therefore, it is unsurprising to find that the EIA’s latest Short-Term Energy and Summer Fuels Outlook reveals coal production in the month of March was down again, producing only 52 million short tons of coal in the month — down 4% on February, and down an impressive 36% on March, 2015.

Furthermore, the EIA forecasts coal production to decrease by 16% in 2016, “which would be the largest annual percentage decline since 1958.”

US Coal Production


In the EIA’s January numbers, the Northern Appalachian Basin, Rocky Mountain region, and Powder River Basin were shown to all have had their production figures fall between 10% and 20%. Only the Illinois Basin increased production levels in 2015, up 8%.

The EIA is now predicting that the Appalachian and Western regions will see production decline by 14% and 20% respectively, and the Interior region will see production fall by 6%, while accounting for 20% of all production in 2016.

Complete our 2017 CleanTechnica Reader Survey — have your opinions, preferences, and deepest wishes heard.

Check out our 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

Tags: , , , , ,

About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

  • Brian

    Excellent. The faster we get rid of dirty coal plants, the better. I’m particularly troubled by Mountain Top Mining, which has destroyed over 500 mountains in the Appalachian mountains. We need to stop this insanity as soon as possible, and build solar power plants and wind farms to replace these dirty coal plants. Natural Gas cannot be used as a bridge fuel, because it is just as bad as dirty coal, when you factor in the fracking, emissions. Extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale could do more to
    aggravate global warming than mining coal, according to a Cornell study
    published in the May issue of Climatic Change Letters. While natural gas has been touted as a clean-burning fuel that produces less carbon dioxide than coal, ecologist Robert Howarth warns that we should be more concerned about methane leaking into the atmosphere during hydraulic fracturing. Still, even if gas burns more cleanly than coal and oil, its production is often so dirty that it undermines the environmental gains.

    • neroden

      Yeah — “normal” natgas is not that bad, but fracking generates insanely high amounts of emissions. The best natgas is biogas — landfill methane, methane from municipal waste plants, etc.

      • Brian

        Agreed, food waste, landfills, and animal waste, etc, can create natural biogas. Closed landfills can have solar panels put on them, and produce biogas, to become two power plants to produce electricity.

        • Coley

          Don’t forget Anobolic digesters, there have been a couple of real success stories regarding this process here in the UK, enough to actually be mentioned in the mainstream media.
          Though I am referring to those who use genuine agricultural waste and produce energy and high class fertiliser, and not some of the dodgy ones using specifically grown crops.

      • Coley

        Fracking and Hinckley point, two dead ducks but with an idiot right wing government desperately offering unlimited financial CPR.
        Don’t dodgy Dave and oddball Osbourne realise they are supporting a sector their mates in the finance industry are quietly distancing themselves from?

        • neroden

          Cameron and Osborne are not very bright. Upper-class twits. No, I don’t think they realize that their mates in the finance industry are running away from these dead ducks.

  • Jan Veselý

    I looked at the picure at the Wiki. It seems that US coal fell under US world war peaks. Nice.

    • JamesWimberley

      Where does the chart say that? US coal use is dropping very fast, but it’s still 300 mt above WWII levels.

      What I find curious in the chart is that the WWII peak was no higher than the WWI one, though GDP and war production especially was much higher. Something happened round 1960 to restart coal growth.

      • Jan Veselý

        It is just my estimate 30-35% under 900 in 2015.
        That restart was maybe something to do oil price.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Here’s the “Closing in 2016” map. And the “Opening in 2016” map.


  • Richard Foster

    Am I reading the graph right and they are expecting a yr-on-yr increase for 2017? This doesn’t seem to make sense….

    • Bob_Wallace

      My approach to EIA numbers is to trust what they report has happened. I’ve never seen anyone find fault with their historical reports.

      But I have zero trust in their predictions. Whoever runs that part of the shop seems to just make stuff up.

      It’s like the ship’s mechanical gear is in great shape but eating anything that comes out of the galley will kill you. Somewhere there’s a captain who isn’t doing their job.

      • JamesWimberley

        Just making stuff up (imagine the BLS under Trump management) would give errors all over the place. The EIA shows a different pattern: a large and systematic underestimation of growth in new renewables. This comes from a model with wrong parameters. The management failure is not to have binned the dud model and built a new one.

      • jonesey

        EIA’s forecasts are, and always have been, poor. They pretty much always fail a basic sanity check. Why would coal shipments increase when natural gas prices are at ten-year lows, coal plants are closing, and no new coal plants are being built?

        See EIA’s own graph of gas prices:

      • The only issue i’ve had with historical reports is lack of rooftop solar, which they now estimate. I think that estimate is still low, but leaving it up to someone who has time to dive deeper to came to a final conclusion.

        Forecasts… yeah, I don’t even look at them now. Don’t want to remember something partially and accidentally think it’s correct. 😀

        • jeffhre

          LOL, the only word that comes to mind is – shame.

    • JamesWimberley

      Right. “Controlled flight into terrain”, they call it in aviation. Of course it’s bound to drop some more. Coal plants are being closed, not opening.

      • Brett

        Except in China, although I don’t even think those plants are ever going to actually get switched on, the over capacity is getting a bit nuts over there.

        • neroden

          China’s new plants might get switched on, but they’ll still have a NET reduction in coal usage: they’ve only been building highly-efficient modern coal plants, and each time they build one, they shut down *far more* old inefficient coal-burning capacity.

          • jeffhre

            Yes. They may get switched on…into a market that is running at 50% capacity, lowering the capacity levels even more by running newer and more efficient plants.

  • Marion Meads

    Unbelievable real change of energy tides!

  • Shiggity

    Also just so people know, the EIA’s ‘estimates’ aren’t really based on market research.

    They are purely based on what large shareholders WANT to see. Every prediction they’ve made in terms of fossil fuels has been WAY over, and every prediction they’ve made in terms of renewable energy has been WAY under.

    That organization is literally costing investors 10’s of billions simply by distorting how bad coal is actually doing.

Back to Top ↑