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Pilot Study of Availability of Coal for Development in Central Appalachian Basin

Jane R. Eggleston, M. Devereux Carter, Nancy K. Gardner, James C. Cobb

According to many United States energy supply forecasts, coal is expected to contribute 25-40% of our domestic energy supply by the year 2000. Indeed, if the demonstrated reserve base (DRB) is over 400 billion short tons, as the Department of Energy currently estimates, then the United States has enough coal to meet any energy needs for almost 200 years. However, the traditional procedure for estimating the DRB applies minable depth and coal thickness parameters and does not factor in all of the environmental and technological restrictions now placed on coal mining.

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Kentucky Geological Survey, recently conducted a pilot study to develop and test a strategy for determining the quantity of coal actually available for mining. The Matewan quadrangle in Pike County, eastern Kentucky, was selected for this study. After original coal resources were quantified for the 22 coal beds in the quadrangle, mined-out coal was plotted and subtracted from the original coal resources. Restrictions on surface and underground mining were then defined after consultations with local regulatory and mining experts. Land-use and environmental restrictions on surface mining include public and private buildings and lands, major streams, highways and railroads, powerlines and pipelines, and oil and gas wells; technological estrictions include limiting strip ratios. Technological restrictions on underground mining include minimum coal bed thickness, maximum mining depth, and proximity to coal beds already mined or more likely to be mined; land-use restrictions include proximity to oil and gas wells. Initial findings indicate that 13% of the coal has been mined out, 2% is restricted by land-use and environmental considerations, and 23% is restricted by technological considerations. Thus, only 62% of the original 992 million short tons of coal resources in place is actually available for mining. In addition, if coal quality is considered, over half of the available coal does not meet current compliance standards. Other factors such as mining recovery and geologic problems that impact mining may further reduce the amount of available coal. Similar coal availability studies are now under way in other quadrangles in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia. After studying a representative sampling of quadrangles, we will use our results to quantify the amount of available coal in the entire Central Appalachian basin.

AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91031©1988 AAPG Eastern Section, Charleston, West Virginia, 13-16 September 1988.