The availability of abundant new borehole data from recent coal bed natural gas development was utilized by the U.S. Geological Survey for a comprehensive evaluation of coal resources and reserves in the southwestern part of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. This report on the Southwestern Powder River Basin assessment area represents the third area within the basin to be assessed, the first being for coal resources and reserves in the Gillette coal field in 2008, and the second for coal resources and reserves in the northern Wyoming area of the basin in 2010.
There are no active coal mines in the Southwestern Powder River Basin assessment area. The only significant production is attributed to the Dave Johnston Mine, in the extreme southern part of the area, which accounted for some 104 million short tons of coal from 1959 to 2000. Several small mines were developed in the 1950s near the Lake DeSmet area in the northwestern part of the area; however, less than 25,000 short tons of coal were produced.
Eight coal beds are present at depths between 1,000 and 2,000 ft in the Southwestern Powder River Basin assessment area. Portions of these coal beds might be recovered by underground mining methods in the future; however, the lack of sufficient drill data precluded an economic study to assess the potential of surface mineable coal resources. Consequently, none of the coal resources in the Southwestern Powder River Basin assessment area were designated as reserves or recoverable coal.
A total of 37 coal beds were identified during this assessment, 23 of which were modeled and evaluated to determine in-place coal resources. The total original coal resource in the Southwestern Powder River Basin assessment area for these 23 coal beds, with no restrictions applied was calculated to be 369 billion short tons. Available coal resources, which are part of the original resource that is accessible for potential mine development after subtracting all restrictions, are about 341 billion short tons (92.4 percent of the total original resource). Approximately 61 percent are at depths between 1,000 and 2,000 ft, with a modeled price of about $30 per short ton. Therefore, the majority of coal resources in the South-western Powder River Basin assessment area are considered sub-economic.