A new report says the amount of coal that’s economically recoverable in the United States has been vastly overblown. The report’s authors say public data shows that the supply has peaked in most of the country’s coal-producing states, including Kentucky.
The report by environmental nonprofit Clean Energy Action takes issue with predictions from the federal Energy Information Administration, where analysts estimate the U.S. has 200 years of recoverable coal left. But that number doesn’t take into account whether the coal will be profitable for operators to extract.
Leslie Glustrom is the director of research and policy for Clean Energy Action, and the author of the report.
“While there are likely to be billions of tons of coal under the United States, most of this coal is buried too deeply to be mined at a profit and we’re rapidly approaching the end of economically recoverable coal. If you can’t mine coal at a profit, you won’t mine very much of it,” she said.
As coal companies have to dig deeper to get to the coal, production costs rise. And that means the cost to consumers rises, too. In Kentucky in 2004, a million BTUs of coal cost $1.39, when it was delivered to a power plant. By 2012, that cost had increased to $2.44.
Based on data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the report estimates that only 10 percent of the coal in Central Appalachia will be profitable to mine. For the Illinois Basin—which includes Western Kentucky—only 9 percent of the coal is economically recoverable. This data goes against what the EIA has forecast, as well as what pro-mining groups like the National Mining Association have estimated.