Coal Production & Mining
Wyoming is the most prolific coal-producing state in the United States. In 2013, approximately 388 million tons of coal was mined from 18 mines (Fig. 1). Wyoming produces more coal than the next six largest coal mining states combined, and provides nearly 40 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of coal.
Although coal production was down in 2013 the price increased 7 percent, resulting in a production value increase to $4.2 billion (based on EIA spot coal price only). Demand in 2013 fell for Wyoming steam coal (also known as thermal coal) used for power generation. The total statewide coal production in 2013 was down 3 percent. One reason for the decrease in coal production are the competing low natural gas prices, which has led to power companies “fuel-switching” from coal to natural gas.
Impending and current EPA carbon dioxide (CO2) and mercury environmental regulations for coal-fired power plants are also having an impact on coal mining. In addition, renewable energy installations have increased to 12 percent of the U.S. electricity portfolio. At the same time power plants are installing state-of-the-art pollution control equipment and beneficiation or coal washing facilities. All of these factors combined mean clean western U.S. coal (considered clean because it reduces the harmful emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels) is not in high demand. The all-time highest coal production year for Wyoming was in 2008 when the state mined 466.3 million tons (Fig. 2). More than 7.4 billion tons of Wyoming coal have been produced since 1994, or 72 percent of the historic statewide total of 10.2 billion tons (Fig. 3).
Figure 2. Historic coal production since 1865.
Figure 3. The left side of the triangle represents the billions of tons of coal produced for each time period (the last 5, 10, and 20 years) in Wyoming. The right side of the triangle represents the cumulative percentage of coal produced over each time period (the last 5, 10, and 20 years) from the total amount of Wyoming coal produced since 1865.
Campbell, Converse, Johnson, and Sheridan counties are home to Wyoming’s Powder River Basin (PRB), the nation’s most prolific source for steam coal. The 50 to 70 foot-thick coal seams at relatively shallow mining depths are the main source for what is considered inexpensive electricity in the United States. Table 1 shows Wyoming coal production by county and by method of mining for 2013. Campbell County supplies more coal for electricity generation than any other county in the U.S.
Table 1. Wyoming Coal Production by county and mining method, 2013.
Wyoming’s large surface coal mines are the most efficient in the nation. The average coal recovery factor is 92 percent at the large surface mines. Wyoming’s 18 actively-producing coal mines provide more than 6,500 jobs (Fig. 4). Since the advent of large surface mine equipment Wyoming's have correlated directly. The statewide average production of coal tonnage per employee is 27.74 tons, the highest productivity in the nation, more than double the next top coal-producing state. Since 1865 Wyoming coal mines have produced 10.2 billion tons of coal.