“The United States has enough coal reserves to last at least another 250 years, with reserves that are over one-and-one-half times greater than our nearest competitor, Russia, and over twice that of China. [Including] … Alaska, which contains more coal reserves than all of the lower 48 states combined … the U.S. has enough coal to last 9,000 years at today’s consumption rate.”
– Testimony before the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Committee on Natural Resources, July 9, 2013.
Coal is the world’s most plentiful fossil fuel and is the most abundant fossil fuel produced in the United States. Over 90 percent of the coal consumed in the United States is used to generate electricity. Coal is also used as a basic industry source for making steel, cement and paper, and is used in other industries as well.
As the first concentrated energy source to be used by man, coal fueled the Industrial Revolution and lifted the burden of labor from the backs of men and animals. The Industrial Revolution was begun in England, the first nation to employ its coal resources to increase human productivity, in turn becoming the first economic and political superpower of the energy age.
For more than a century, coal served as the chief transportation energy source and fed the world’s commerce with railroads and steamships. Its transformation from an abundant but useless rock into a valuable energy source created an explosion of intellectual creativity that changed the course of human events. Currently, coal is used to meet almost 20 percent of America’s total energy demand and generate about 40 percent of all its electricity.
The United States has enough coal reserves to last at least another 250 years, with reserves that are more than one-and-one-half times greater than our nearest competitor, Russia, and over twice that of China. America’s known coal reserves, 261 billion tons, alone constitute 27 percent of the entire world’s coal reserves.
While known reserves are high, actual U.S. coal resources are much higher. “Reserves” represent coal that is readily evident as a result of ongoing mine operations, while “resources” include all those areas known to contain coal but have yet to be actually quantified by direct exposure due to the mining process. In-place U.S. coal resources (the entire estimated volume that is within the earth) total 10 trillion short tons, and would last over 9,000 years at today’s consumption levels.
Alaska is estimated to hold more coal than the entire lower 48 states. EIA estimates recoverable coal reserves in Alaska is 2.8 billion short tons, while geological estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey put the in-place figure at over 6 trillion short tons.
American coal production is currently second in the world behind China, delivering 1.016 billion short tons in 2012. (China produces over 3.8 billion short tons a year and still needs to import coal.) While coal use has slightly decreased over the last few years in the United States due to low-cost natural gas and government policies against coal use, its share of world energy consumption has increased to 30 percent in 2012, the highest since 1970.
Coal-related public-policy debates should keep these facts in mind.
The United States’ vast amount of coal reserves are larger than any other country in the world. While the world is using coal for almost 30 percent of its energy consumption needs, the United States’ coal consumption was at just 18 percent of its energy demand last year.
Low natural gas prices due to hydraulic fracturing and the government’s regulatory policies concerning coal have resulted in coal losing a substantial share of the electric generation market. In order for coal producers to keep their employees in jobs, they have turned to the overseas market where coal is increasing in popularity.
This post is taken from testimony presented today by Mary J. Hutzler of the Institute for Energy Research before the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Committee on Natural Resources.