Colorado Coal Production Apparent Peak Was 2004–Most Other States Are Also Past Peak Production

Colorado is typically about the seventh largest producer of coal in the United States, producing less than 40 million tons of coal a year. By comparison, the top coal producing state Wyoming produces over 450 million tons–with many single mines in Wyoming producing more than the entire annual coal production of Colorado.

Coal production by state can be tracked in Table 1 of the Energy Information Administration’s annual coal report which can be found here.

Tracking Colorado’s coal production. it becomes clear that Colorado’s coal production hit a peak of just under 40 million tons in 2004. Since that time, Colorado coal production has declined significantly with Colorado coal production in 2008 being reported as 32.8 million tons.

Between 2004 and 2008, Colorado coal production declined by about 17%–and, as discussed below, 2009 production is lagging about 10% behind 2008 production. When final 2009 data become available, it is possible that between 2004 and 2009, Colorado coal production will have declined by 20% or more.

As of the third quarter of 2009, Colorado’s coal production was about 10% below 2008 levels. Quarterly coal production by state can be found on the Energy Information Administration coal data web page here.

The decline in Colorado coal production (and as discussed below a similar decline in most other coal producing states) is largely the result of geologic constraints. The easily accessible coal in the United States has largely been mined and turned into CO2 that now resides in the atmosphere and oceans.

While it is possible that Colorado (and other coal producing states that are past peak production) could open new mines and reach a new peak in production this doesn’t seem likely considering the considerable geologic, economic, legal and transportation constraints facing future coal production as discussed in detail here.

What About the Other Coal Producing States?

From EIA data on coal production, it is clear that all of the top 15 coal producing states have passed peak coal production except Wyoming and Montana. As of the third quarter of 2009, both Wyoming and Montana coal production declined in 2009 compared to 2008, but this could be due to the economy.

A careful analysis of existing life span of Wyoming mines and the geology of the coal in the Powder River Basin indicates that a peak in Wyoming coal production may not be too far in the future.

Montana is an unknown, but at about 40 million tons of coal produced a year, and strong local opposition to sacrificing the local agriculture and range economy for coal production, it appears unlikely that Montana coal production will increase dramatically in the future.

An extensive report on US coal supplies entitled “Coal–Cheap and Abundant, Or Is It? Why Americans Should Stop Assuming that the United States Has a 200 Year Supply of Coal” is available for free download from the Clean Energy Action website.

Additional information is available from the author upon request.

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