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U.S. coal mining productive capacity down 28% since 2009: EIA

coal mining in downtrend

Total coal mining productive capacity from U.S’s mines totaled 1,009 million short tons in 2019, which is 28% lower than the productive peak registered in 2009, of 1,407 MMst, the Energy Information Administration reported this Wednesday.

Also, coal production declined 35% during the same period, as many mines are closing and producing less.

The decline in coal demand across many industrial sectors that we’ve reported previously, is also hitting coal utilization ratios. In 2019, according to EIA, coal utilization was of 70%, and it averaged 72% in 2015. In contrast, from 2000 to 2014, ratio was of 82%.

At surface mining, productive capacity was also down 15%, from 773 MMts in 2015 to 656 MMst in 2019. Utilization ratio at surface mining declined from 77% in 2015, to 68% in 2019.

“From 2015 to 2019, despite a 12% decline in productive capacity and 14% decline in coal production, underground mine utilization remained near 77%, which indicates that underground mines were idled or closed rather than left open to produce at lower rates,” EIA explains.

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Coal mining employment down

As many of these mines are idled or closed, employments have also declined, especially in the Power River Basin region in Wyoming and Montana. There, mines are relying more and more on automation and heavy machinery than manual human labor.

In the past decade coal mining employment fell from a high of 92,000 employees in 2011 to 54,000 in 2018, according to EIA’s data.

EIA explains that idling select equipment in surface mining is feasible, as in underground mining equipment ensures ventilation and worker safety. This is a common practice in the industry, even in the mine is producing less and employing less people.

Coal Mining by Region. Source: EIA

Therefore, utilizations rates have remained more stable underground than in the surface. On top of this, almost all of the metallurgical coal is produced underground. Also, metallurgical coal demand has remained stable.

Coal for heating and electricity generation is the one with steady declines since 2011. “Surface mines produced about 60% of the thermal coal consumed in 2019,” EIA concludes.

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