During the 20th century, it seemed like coal was dying a slow death. With the introduction of fuel oil and natural gas, the demand for coal dropped. As a result coal mines closed and countless jobs were lost.
Today, alternative energy sources such as wind and solar are all of the rage. They promise environmentally friendly, renewable power. Nevertheless, coal remains an important resource for the production of electricity.
In the United States, coal production has remained strong even as demand for it has declined domestically. This begs the question, if Americans are using less coal, where is the rest of it going? The answer is China.
Over the past few decades, China’s economy has boomed. The country has become a manufacturing juggernaut with factories that require electricity in order to run. Much of this comes from coal power plants.
In order to meet the growing demand for electricity, China has turned to importing coal from countries such as the United States. The US has some of the largest coal reserves in the world.
Coal remains an important fuel source in the United States as well. About one third of the electricity production in the US comes from coal. Given the significant reserves of anthracite coal in the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania, some have hoped for a revival of coal mining in the area around Centralia.
Unfortunately, the growing demand is for cheap, dirty coals like bituminous and subituminous. Interest in anthracite coal continues to decline. It’s typically more difficult to mine and, therefore, more costly.
Increased coal production in the United States can be seen in the West where there are large deposits of bituminous coal. According to the Wall Street Journal, just two counties in Wyoming account for nearly 40% of all the US coal production!
So, while there appears to be a strong future for coal worldwide, the outlook is not so bright for the traditional coal mining regions in the Appalachian Mountains. It’s doubtful that any of the unburned coal under Centralia, Pennsylvania will ever be mined.