By Matt Combs
November 5, 2018 - While it has been known for some time that coal production, particularly in southern West Virginia, had bounced slightly back in 2017, the United States Energy Information recently releasedits in-depth 2017 Annual Coal Report which offered further details to that bounce back.
According to the report, the five coal-producing counties in the Register-Herald distribution area —Fayette, Greenbrier, Nicholas, Raleigh and Wyoming — were home to 46 mines which produced nearly 15.6 million short tons of coal in 2017.
Expanded across all of the southern portions of the state, those figures expanded to 125 mines which produced over 46 million short tons of coal, which was a 27.1 percent increase in production from the year prior.
In detail, Raleigh County had seven underground mines in 2017 which produced over 3.9 million short tons and 13 surface mines which produced over 6.1 million short tons of coal.
Wyoming County had six underground coal mines which produced over 3.3 million short tons of coal and eight surface mines which produced over 1.6 million short tons of coal.
Combined, Raleigh and Wyoming counties produced over 11.1 million short tons of coal, or approximately 24 percent of the total haul for the southern portion of the state.
In 2017, there were three underground mines in Fayette County which produced nearly 1.3 million short tons of coal along with five surface mines which produced over 1.8 million short tons of coal.
Greenbrier County was home to one underground operation in 2017 which produced 125,000 short tons of coal along with nine surface operations which produced 665,000 short tons of coal.
Nicholas County's sole operation, an underground mine, produced 517,000 short tons of coal.
The increase in production was paralleled by an increase in mining employment in southern West Virginia.
In 2017, average mine employees grew by 14.4 percent in the state from 11,561 to 13,222 with that growth really seen in the southern portion of the state.
Average mine employment in the southern portion of the state went from 7,413 in 2016 to 8,976 in 2017, a growth rate of 21.1 percent.
Another category which saw tremendous growth over the year was recoverable coal reserves at producing mines, a statistic that outlines the amount of coal that can be recovered from active mines.
While the national figure decreased by five percent, recoverable coal reserves in southern West Virginia grew by 42.2 percent from 680 million short tons to 967 million short tons of coal.
That same figure declined by 1.7 percent in the northern part of the state.
While the vast majority of coal mined in the United States is destined for energy consumption, southern West Virginia's supply of coal is nearly split in half between nonmetallurgical coal and metallurgical coal.
According to the data, the southern portion of the state produced over 21.4 million short tons of metallurgical coal in 2017, with over 54 percent of that coal destined for domestic use and the remaining destined for exports.
While production was up in the Mountain State, which continues to mine the second most coal in the nation, that production pales in comparison to mines in Wyoming.
At one mining location, the North Antelope Rochelle Mine in eastern Wyoming, miners hauled away nearly 101.6 million short tons of coal in 2017, nearly nine million more tons than the entire state of West Virginia and more than 13 percent of the nation's total coal production.
The most productive underground mine in the nation was the MC Number One in Illinois, which mined over 12.8 million short tons of coal in 2017.