Know Your Energy: The 5 States That Supply 73% of US Coal

coal train wyoming photo

photo: Kimon Berlin via flickr.

By now you undoubtedly have had it drilled into your head that the US gets about 50% of its electrical power from coal. Though the exact percentage does vary quite a bit by region, the fact remains that it's a heck of a lot of coal. But do you know where that coal actually comes from? Appalachia surely has a coal reputation, but what about in more specific detail? Well, here you go --The 5 states that supply three-quarters of the US' coal:US Total Production 2003-2008 -- According to the latest EIA data, for the past five years on average US coal production has been about 1.4 billion tons per year, with 1.17 billion tons produced in 2008.

surface coal mine photo

photo: Doc Searls via flickr.

#1: Wyoming = 467.6 Million Tons

Wyoming may not spring to mind immediately as a big coal region unless you've got a penchant for delving into these sort of things, but the sparsely populated Rocky Mountain state is the US' largest coal production by a wide margin. In fact it produces nearly three times as much as its closest rival, and about 40% of the US total supply.

To give you a sense of the scale of coal mining in operations in Wyoming, consider that all that coal is taken from just 20 mines, all but one of which are huge surface mining operations.

#2: West Virginia = 157.8 Million Tons

Now, West Virginia, here's where the image of coal mining (for better and worse) most people was made... and is colored strongly today by the battle to shut down mountaintop removal coal mines.

The difference in scale of the individual operations between West Virginia and Wyoming couldn't be more different. In 2008, 301 mines were in operation -- 186 of those were underground and 115 surface mines. Those mines produce 14% of the US' coal.

#3: Kentucky = 120.3 Million Tons

Kentucky is interesting in that though it holds down the third place position in total production, it actually has the largest number of mining operations in 2008. A total of 468 mines (253 surface mines and 216 underground) are responsible for 10% of US production.

mountaintop removal coal mine photo

photo: The Sierra Club via flickr.

#4: Pennsylvania = 65.4 Million Tons

Though it occupies the fourth place spot, Pennsylvania produces seven times less coal than does Wyoming and does so out of 266 mines -- 80% of which these days are surface mines -- which contribute 6% to US total production.

#5: Montana = 44.8 Million Tons

If you're getting the impression that pretty much everywhere trails far far behind Wyoming, you're right. Immediately to the north, Montana is no exception. Responsible for 4% of US coal production, the Big Sky State operates just six coal mines, five of which are surface mining operations.

coal consumption united states 2008 image

Electric Power Sector Consumption of Coal by Census Region, 2008 (millions of short tons and percent change from 2007): EIA
But Where Does That Coal Go?
In 2008, 93% of US coal demand came from electrical production, which consumed 1.04 billion tons. As you can see from the chart above, most of that demand came the middle and southeastern parts of the United States.

The East North Central states tread the dirtiest path, consuming 239.2 million tons; the South Atlantic states are next dirtiest, with 180.4 million tons of coal consumption; third dirtiest is Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, with 156.1 million tons of coal consumed in 2008.

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