In spite of its large endowment of coal resources, recent studies have indicated that United States coal production is destined to reach a maximum and begin an irreversible decline sometime during the middle of the current century. However, studies and assessments illustrating coal reserve data essential for making accurate forecasts of United States coal production have not been compiled on a national basis. As a result, there is a great deal of uncertainty in the accuracy of the production forecasts. A very large percentage of the coal mined in the United States comes from a few large-scale mines (mega-mines) in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana. Reported reserves at these mines do not account for future potential reserves or for future development of technology that may make coal classified currently as resources into reserves in the future. In order to maintain United States coal production at or near current levels for an extended period of time, existing mines will eventually have to increase their recoverable reserves and/or new large-scale mines will have to be opened elsewhere. Accordingly, in order to facilitate energy planning for the United States, this paper suggests that probabilistic assessments of the remaining coal reserves in the country would improve long range forecasts of coal production. As it is in United States coal assessment projects currently being conducted, a major priority of probabilistic assessments would be to identify the numbers and sizes of remaining large blocks of coal capable of supporting large-scale mining operations for extended periods of time and to conduct economic evaluations of those resources.
Additional publication details
Coal resources, reserves and peak coal production in the United States