Coal Production is Increasing in Western Kentucky

Western Kentucky’s coal production has picked up again, as we see mines employing new workers. In general, production is growing across the state, though it is decreasing in Eastern Kentucky.

In 2013, production in Eastern Kentucky decreased while Western Kentucky skyrocketed by 90 percent since 2003. According to Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet, production was dropping in Western Kentucky due to the area’s high concentration of sulphur; however, mines in Western Kentucky have since installed scrubbers, which cleanse the coal of pollutants and, in turn, have increased production.

According to the most recent Kentucky Quarterly Coal Report, which includes production from July through September, Kentucky generated 19.9 million tons during the three month period.

For the past three quarters, total Kentucky coal production has increased; but while Western mines’ production have risen by 5.2%, Eastern mines’ production has fallen by 4.3%. Analysts anticipate that production from the coal basin, including Western Kentucky, will see an upsurge in the following 25 years.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

December 2, 2014

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“Coal: The fuel of the future, unfortunately” – The Economist, 19 April 2014

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The Economist

While natural gas has been waging a war on coal, coal will likely persist as a serious player in the energy market. Coal is inexpensive, plentiful, and easy to mine, ship, and burn. It is a cheap energy source for developing countries, and a great way for these countries to become rich.

Still, the issue remains that coal is not a clean energy source. Mining, transporting, storing and burning coal is a dirty job; underground mining can cause health issues for miners. Transporting coal has negative environmental impacts; opencast mining, a surface mining technique, destroys topsoil and devours water supplies. Coal is the biggest single source of pollution in the world, expending one-third of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

The US is experiencing a large shift away from coal and towards natural gas. Many big US coal companies, like American Electric Power and Duke Energy, are closing coal-fired plants. Yet, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that coal will still be producing 22% of the US’s energy by 2040. Coal currently produces 26% of the US’s energy. China, the world’s biggest pollutant, is trying to restrict its coal consumption, but developing countries like Africa and India are picking up where China has left off. In Germany, coal is the cheapest it’s ever been. Japan, too, has recently authorized a new energy plan that has solidified coal’s role as the country’s main energy source.

Besides these boons for coal, international coal companies should still be worried for two reasons: one, that governments will place restrictions on coal; and two, the global oversupply of coal, which has pushed prices down and caused some coal companies to lose profits.

Still, coal remains a worthy adversary to oil and gas. Coal mining doesn’t necessitate expensive equipment, like drills, platforms and pipes, and when prices drop, companies can stop manufacturing and wait until prices pick back up.

Technological advances for producing clean coal—pulverizing coal, separating the gas from coal, scrubbing emissions and capturing carbon dioxide—look promising, though the methods are costly. A $5.2 billion clean-coal plant is being built in Mississippi, which was entirely funded by taxpayers. This will be the most expensive power plant ever completed, so we can probably safely assume that clean-coal plants won’t be the norm any time soon.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

April 20, 2014

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“Coal Scrubbers Give Illinois Basin New Life” – Wall Street Journal, 9 January 2014

Natural gas has been dominating the news, and many feel that the influx of the major energy source has inadvertently waged a war on coal. US coal production dropped 7% in 2012, but now coal is making a resurgence, mainly due to the Illinois Basin, which extends from Illinois to Missouri, Indiana and Western Kentucky.

The Illinois Basin was a key US coal basin, until the Clean Air Act of 1970 passed, making the Illinois Basin unfavorable for mining. Illinois coal has elevated levels of sulfur, which is partially responsible for acid rain. However, widespread use of scrubbing technology has allowed for mines in Illinois to reopen—scrubbing technology can lift 97% of a coal-fired power plants’ sulfur dioxide. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicted that Illinois would generate 56 million tons of coal in 2013, a 70% increase from 2010. The Illinois Basin is anticipated to produce more coal than Central Appalachia, another major US coal basin.

While natural gas has been a huge boost to our economy and is the cleaner energy source, the coal industry provides the US with many jobs. There will be more jobs available as the basin reopens near railroads and along the Mississippi River.

As the US inches towards a more desired energy independence and security, we must continue to pursue a prudent “all of the above ” energy strategy.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

March 21, 2014

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“Former coal miner testifies in favor of EPA carbon regs” – Politico, 6 February 2014

We never thought we’d hear a former coal miner publicly speak out in favor of EPA carbon regulations, but last week, Virginian and fourth-generation former underground coal miner Nick Mullins, did.

President Obama and the EPA have introduced the Climate Action Plan, which aims to tackle climate change. One element of the plan is to establish carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants. On February 6, the EPA held a public hearing, which allowed for an open and transparent public comment process on the proposal to limit power plants’ carbon pollution.

Not only did Mullins state that the coal industry exploits its workers and reinforces the cyclical poverty often found in coal states, but that coal mining is also dirtying our water and clean air for current and future generations. The EPA’s carbon pollution limitations would promote energy efficiency, while permitting us to efficiently save our stores of coal, oil and natural gas.

There are many sides of every story. In our highly polarized and political world—where “vocal minority” voices, though often fought, are always heard—it is always refreshing to witness the “silent majority” speak quietly, yet effectively.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

February 10, 2014

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