Total US coal mines the lowest on record — report
There is pain across the United States’ coal sector, with mines closing almost every month, power plants switching to cheap natural gas, crippling debt, mounting foreign competition and increasingly strict regulations to limit greenhouse gases and toxic emissions.
Not surprisingly, the latest report released this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), showed that not only the number of new coal mines opening each year in the country has dropped to its lowest point in at least a decade. It also unveiled that the total number of operating coal mines in the U.S. has hit its lowest point since at least 1923, one of the earliest year on record.
US coal producers opened 103 new mines in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, which represents a 14% drop when compared to the previous year. At the same time at least 270 operations were either halted or shut down in 2013, EIA data show.
Total coal output was expectedly affected. Between 2009 and 2013, new and reactivated mines accounted for 63 million short tons of production in their first year, falling short of the 114 million tons of lost production from the last year of production by mines idled between 2008 and 2012, the EIA said.
And while preliminary data for 2014 suggest there was a slight increase in the number of coal mine openings last year, the agency says the trend is still downward.
The country’s total coal production has shrunk about 15% since 2008, and coal stockpiles keep growing at mines as coal-fired power plants shut down month after month.
The commodity, which once fired half of the country’s power now accounts for just under 40% of it. And the Energy Department projects that percentage will slide further, to 34% in 2040, as power plants turn to natural gas and renewables like wind and solar power.