Coal production hits three-decade low

Coal production was probably at its lowest point in nearly three decades last year as the electricity sector shifted toward cleaner fuels.

The Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) preliminary estimate is that the United States processed 900 million tons of coal in 2015, it said Friday.


That’s about 10 percent below 2014's level, continuing a decline that has held each year since the production peak of 2008. It’s the lowest volume since 1986, the EIA said.

“Low natural gas prices, lower international coal demand, and environmental regulations have contributed to declining U.S. coal production,” the agency said Friday.

Appalachia experienced the biggest decline among regions the EIA tracks, due largely to the difficulty of recovering coal from mines there.

The Central Appalachian Basin produced about 40 percent less coal in 2015 than the yearly average for 2010 to 2014, the agency said, while most other areas saw 10 percent to 20 percent drops.

2015 also included the first months in history in which the U.S. produced more electricity from natural gas than from coal.

The first month when gas beat coal was in April. But it happened again in each month from July to October, the last month of the EIA's current data.

Beyond the drop in domestic consumption, the export market for coal is also shrinking, with major markets in Europe and China dropping their demand.