Coal

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Coal is a carbon-rich rock formed from plants that grew millions of years ago. Coal is a major source of electricity in the United States and the largest source of energy for electricity generation worldwide.

Basics

A coal-fired power plant in Westport, Kentucky on the Ohio River. Image Copyright © Michael Collier. http://www.earthscienceworld.org/images

Coal is a rich source of energy formed from plants that grew in swamps tens to hundreds of millions of years ago. The plants were buried deeply under younger and younger layers of dirt and rock, heated, and compressed into a carbon-rich rock.[1] Burning coal releases more carbon dioxide per unit of energy produced than any other fossil fuel.[2]   Read more

Frequently Asked Questions

Latest News

Power lines. Image Credit: U.S. Department of Energy
(2018-02-06)
January 23, 2018 The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on January 23 that underscored concerns surrounding the reliability and resiliency of the electrical power system, particularly under certain weather conditions, such as the deep freeze or bomb cyclone that the U.S....
Nuclear power plant, Czech Republic
(2018-02-06)
January 8, 2018 On January 8, the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) rejected a proposal that was submitted by Secretary of Energy Rick Perry in September 2017 to subsidize the operating costs of coal and nuclear power plants, since the rule did not satisfy certain statutory standards....
Excavator mining
(2017-06-09)
May 25, 2017 The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a legislative hearing on a discussion draft of the Community Reclamation Partnerships Act (H.R.__) to be introduced by Representative Darin LaHood (R-IL-18). This legislation would streamline efforts to clean...
Nuclear power plant, Czech Republic
(2017-03-06)
February 16, 2017 Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA-12) introduced legislation (H.R.1119) to modify existing regulations applying to coal-refuse-to-energy power plants on February 16. The bill acts to exempt these specific power plants from emission standards required under the Environmental Protection...
#MapOfTheDay! Check out this interactive map of Iowa coal mines from @iowadnr  http://bit.ly/23DKXga
(2016-11-07)
#MapOfTheDay! Today the Critical Issues Program (@AGI_GeoIssues) shared an interactive map of coal mines in Iowa from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (@IowaDNR), which you can find at http://bit.ly/23DKXga. For information about coal mining, check out our Coal Basics.
Excavator mining
(2016-08-25)
August 9, 2016 The Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) has issued guidance suggesting that states move away from accepting self-bonding, where companies use their current financial health as collateral to guarantee reclamation of lands...
Earth
(2016-06-27)
June 22, 2016 The White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) released a report entitled, “The Economics of Coal Leasing on Federal Lands: Ensuring a Fair Return to Taxpayers”. This report is part of a larger ongoing review of the federal coal leasing program – the first such review since the...
Earth
(2016-04-13)
April 5, 2016 The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a webinar entitled, “Can Coal Country Thrive in a Clean Energy Economy?” The speakers were Tara Ritter of the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, Julie Lawhorn of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), Brett...
Earth
(2016-04-11)
March 25, 2016 The Department of the Interior (DOI) released a notice of intent (NOI) that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) to evaluate potential reforms to the federal coal program. The NOI comes after a DOI announcement in...

Case Studies & Factsheets

Screenshot of the USEITI case studies showing the Campbell County case study highlighted
U.S. Department of the Interior

The U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Natural Resources Revenue, Information and Data Management has produced a series of case studies on extractive industries across the United States, focusing on coal, copper, gold, iron, natural gas, and oil. The case study on coal mining in...

Screenshot of the USEITI case studies showing the Boone, Logan and Mingo counties case study highlighted
U.S. Department of the Interior

The U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Natural Resources Revenue, Information and Data Management has produced a series of case studies on extractive industries across the United States, focusing on coal, copper, gold, iron, natural gas, and oil. The case study on coal mining in West...

Fig. 1. Exposure of sandstone capping an economic coal bed. Credit: J. Shaulis, Pennsylvania Geological Survey

Defining the Problem Despite Pennsylvania’s long history as a major coal producer, information on the coal geology (Fig. 1), remaining resources, and extent of past mining is not available for many areas of the state. Such information is critical for present and future coal exploration and...

Research Database Publications

Cover of C574; Source: Illinois Geological Survey
2009, Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS)
More than 122 million tons of coal combustion by-products (CCBs) are produced nationwide each year by coal-burning utilities that generate electricity. About 60% of these CCBs are disposed of as waste (American Coal Ash Association 2006). In addition to fly ash and bottom ash CCBs, the annual...
Cover of B2198; Source: USGS
2003, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is assessing coal resources in Alaska and the conterminous United States to deter-mine the quantity, quality, and minability of coal likely to be used within the next 30 years. This assessment is critical because the utilization of clean (low sulfur content and low...
Fig. 1. Exposure of sandstone capping an economic coal bed. Credit: J. Shaulis, Pennsylvania Geological Survey
2004, American Geosciences Institute (AGI)
Geologic maps provide critical information for coal resource exploration and for planners, regulators, decision makers, and the general public. 
Cover of PUB111; Source: Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy
1991, Virginia Division of Geology and Mineral Resources (VA DGMR)
This study indicates that at the time of publication the coal resources in Lee County 944-millions short tons of coal originally existed, of which 72-million short tons have been mined, leaving 871-million short tons of remaining coal.
Cover of OFR_13-01; Source: Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy
2013, Virginia Division of Geology and Mineral Resources (VA DGMR)
The information in this report was compiled for and presented to the participants of the 2008 Southeastern U.S. Mesozoic Basins Energy Resources Potential Workshop held in Charlottesville, Virginia. In 2012, the U.S. Geological Survey published a new assessment of the undiscovered oil and gas...
Cover of ofr20161033; Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey
2016, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced emissions standards, known as Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), for a range of toxic constituents from coal-fired utility power stations and other combustion sources. This report presents the findings of an expert panel...
Cover of USGS_2015-3037; Source: USGS
2015, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Coal ash is a residual waste product primarily produced by coal combustion for electric power generation. Coal ash includes fly ash, bottom ash, and flue-gas desulfurization products (at powerplants equipped with flue-gas desulfurization systems). Fly ash, the most common form of coal ash, is used...
Cover of PP1625f; Source: USGS
2009, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has completed the National Coal Resource Assessment (NCRA), a multiyear project by the USGS Energy Resources Program, in partnership with State geological surveys in the coal producing regions of the United States. The NCRA is the first digital national coal-...
Cover of SP98-6 ; Source: Oklahoma Geological Survey
1998, Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS)
Mcintosh County is located in the east-central part of the coal belt of eastern Oklahoma, and almost the entire county is underlain by coal-bearing strata of Desmomesian (Middle Pennsylvanian) age. For lack of data about coal depth and thlckness, resource potential is unknown for ~75% of the county...
Cover of OFR 2016-1; Source: Ohio Geological Survey
2016, Ohio Geological Survey (OGS)
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Division of Geological Survey (Ohio Geological Survey) performed an estimation of the remaining and available coal resources of the Lower Freeport (No. 6a) coal bed in Ohio. This study represents the first statewide estimation of Lower Freeport coal...