The abundance of new borehole data from recent coal bed natural gas development in the Powder River Basin was utilized by the U.S. Geological Survey for the most comprehensive evaluation to date of coal resources and reserves in the Northern Wyoming Powder River Basin assessment area. It is the second area within the Powder River Basin to be assessed as part of a regional coal assessment program; the first was an evaluation of coal resources and reserves in the Gillette coal field, adjacent to and south of the Northern Wyoming Powder River Basin assessment area. There are no active coal mines in the Northern Wyoming Powder River Basin assessment area at present. However, more than 100 million short tons of coal were produced from the Sheridan coal field between the years 1887 and 2000, which represents most of the coal production within the northwestern part of the Northern Wyoming Powder River Basin assessment area.
A total of 33 coal beds were identified during the present study, 24 of which were modeled and evaluated to determine in-place coal resources. Given current technology, economic factors, and restrictions to mining, seven of the beds were evaluated for potential reserves. The restrictions included railroads, a Federal interstate highway, urban areas, and alluvial valley floors. Other restrictions, such as depth, thickness of coal beds, mined-out areas, and areas of burned coal, were also considered.
The total original coal resource in the Northern Wyoming Powder River Basin assessment area for all 24 coal beds assessed, with no restrictions applied, was calculated to be 285 billion short tons. Available coal resources, which are part of the original coal resource that is accessible for potential mine development after subtracting all restrictions, are about 263 billion short tons (92.3 percent of the original coal resource). Recoverable coal, which is that portion of available coal remaining after subtracting mining and processing losses, was determined for seven coal beds with a stripping ratio of 10:1 or less. After mining and processing losses were subtracted, a total of 50 billion short tons of recoverable coal was calculated.
Coal reserves are the portion of the recoverable coal that can be mined, processed, and marketed at a profit at the time of the economic evaluation. With a discounted cash flow at 8 percent rate of return, the coal reserves estimate for the Northern Wyoming Powder River Basin assessment area is 1.5 billion short tons of coal (1 percent of the original resource total) for the seven coal beds evaluated.