The United States has a long history of coal extraction, as well as the largest proven coal reserves in the world. These reserves literally fueled the Industrial Revolution in the northern U.S. and employed a good deal of the Appalachian population since that time. However, environmental concerns and shifting demand have changed the industry’s composition in recent years, and coal production in North America has generally been falling in recent years.
Sources of coal production in the United States
The coalbed thickness of just over half of coal produced in the U.S. was over 120 inches (300cm), and much of this can be reached with surface mining. This explains why coal has been a reliable energy source, even before the development of advanced mining techniques. The most famous (and numerous) coal mines are in West Virginia, but Wyoming is by far the leading U.S. state in coal production. Until 2017, Pennsylvania was the state with the highest number of coal mines. Since 2018, however, West Virginia has had the most active coal mines, with 162 as of 2019. Overall, the number of active coal mines is has been declining since 2000.
The U.S. coal industry has been decreasing in profitability gradually over the years. The leading company, Peabody Energy, had a slight increase in revenue in 2017 and 2018, as did Arch Coal, but both companies appear to be back on a downward trend as of 2020.
Profile of a U.S. coal miner
Coal mining employees in the U.S. are overwhelmingly men without a university degree. In spite of the lack of post-secondary education, they earn an average salary of 89,707 U.S. dollars per year. However, following production trends, there are fewer coal-mining jobs, particularly in the Appalachian region. Strikingly, in 2020, U.S. coal employment shrank by nearly 18,000 jobs compared to 2019, to 63,649. The highest number of jobs are in West Virginia, with more underground jobs. As a result of fewer surface mines, tens of thousands of acres are reclaimed from coal mining each year.
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