Trends in U.S. recoverable coal supply estimates and future production outlooks

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Publication date: 2010-09-01
First published in: Natural Resources Research
Authors: M. Höök, K. Aleklett


The geological coal resource of the U.S. is abundant and proved coal reserves are listed as the world’s largest. However, the reserves are unevenly distributed and located in a small number of states, giving them major influence over future production. A long history of coal mining provides detailed time series of production and reserve estimates, which can be used to identify historical trends. In reviewing the historical evolution of coal reserves, one can state that the trend here does not point towards any major increases in available recoverable reserves; rather the opposite is true due to restrictions and increased focus on environmental impacts from coal extraction. Future coal production will not be entirely determined by what is geologically available, but rather by the fraction of that amount that is practically recoverable. Consequently, the historical trend towards reduced recoverable amounts is likely to continue into the future, with even stricter regulations imposed by increased environmental concern.

Long-term outlooks can be created in many ways, but ultimately the production must be limited by recoverable volumes since coal is a finite resource. The geologic amounts of coal are of much less importance to future production than the practically recoverable volumes. The geological coal supply might be vast, but the important question is how large the share that can be extracted under present restrictions are and how those restrictions will develop in the future. Production limitations might therefore appear much sooner than previously expected.

Published in: Natural Resources Research, Volume 19, Issue 3, September 2010, Pages 189-208
Available from: SpringerLink

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