Coal Resources of Rocky Mountains and Their Future Utilization
Richard F. Perkins
Coal deposits have been known and utilized in the Rocky Mountain area since the early Spanish explorers. Since 1950, coal production has been stimulated by steam-powered generation of electricity. Production for this purpose is expected to continue to increase.
Most currently available public information on western coal reserves is contained in publications of the U.S. Geological Survey. The United States is estimated to contain 1.7 trillion tons of in-place coal of all ranks. Of this, 868 billion tons are in the Rocky Mountain area; 693 billion tons alone are in three states: Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota. These numbers may be misleading for the following reasons:
1. Most of the estimated reserves are in the "indicated" or "inferred" categories with little or no detailed geological control.
2. Parameters of minimum bed thickness and maximum overburden used by the USGS probably exceed those applicable for economically "usable" deposits.
It is anticipated that ultimate "measured" reserves in economically "usable" deposits will be only a small fraction of estimated reserves-in-place.
Current annual production in the Rockies is 20 million tons, most of which is consumed for steam-electric generation. By 1975, annual production is expected to be 58 million tons.
Petroleum-industry experts have forecast a 6 million bbl/day "energy gap" in crude-oil production vs. demand by 1980. This "gap" will be filled by imports, or by synthetic production of crude from coal, oil shale, and tar sand. Production of synthetic crude from coal involves technological problems which already have been solved, and which need only to be made economically competitive. When this is accomplished, the better coal fields of the Rocky Mountains may yield as much as 160,000 bbl/acre or more. Capital expenditures will be great, but coal is expected to provide an important source of crude oil during the late twentieth century.
AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91051©2012 AAPG Rocky Mountain Section Meeting, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 23-26 February 1969