EIA tallies up losses across the board for U.S. coal in 2015

In 2015, U.S. coal production dropped 10.3% year-over-year to below 900 million short tons, the lowest annual production level since 1986, said the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual coal report for 2015, released Nov. 3.

The number of producing mines in the United States continued its declining trend in 2015, falling to 853 mines, which is more than 13% fewer mines than in 2014. Production in all three regions – the Western, Interior, and Appalachian – decreased in 2015.

  • The Appalachian region’s coal production in 2015 was 220.7 million short tons, the lowest level since 1978, after a decline of 17.3% from 2014. The declining trend resulted from historically-low coal productions from West Virginia and Kentucky, which produced 95.6 and 61.4 million short tons, respectively, which represent 14.8% and 20.6% drops from 2014.
  • Coal production in the Interior region in 2015 was 167.4 million short tons, a decrease of 11.2% from 2014 levels, marking the first decline in production in the past six years. Illinois, the largest coal-producing state in the Interior region in part due to several highly-productive longwall mines, declined by 1.9 million short ton (3.2%) to 56.1 million short tons.
  • Coal production in the Western region in 2015 decreased by 35.4 million short tons to 507.4 million short tons. Wyoming, the largest coal-producing state in the region, decreased production by 15.4 million short tons in 2015 to 375.7 million short tons, the lowest level since 2002. Montana’s production in 2015 was 41.9 million short tons, 6.1% lower than in 2014.

In 2015, the collective productive capacity of U.S. coal mines decreased for the fourth year in a row, to 1,164.9 million short tons, a decline of 6.3% from the 2014 level. Notable declines in productive capacity occurred in Kentucky (19.8%), Utah (18.4%), and Colorado (10.1%). Capacity utilization at underground mines and surface mines in 2015 both fell from the 2014 levels. The overall capacity utilization across all mines decreased from 80.1% to 76.7%.

The total number of employees at U.S. coal mines in 2015 decreased by 12.0% to 65,971 employees. This is the lowest average number of mine employees on record since EIA began collecting data in 1978. The average total number of employees at underground mines and surface mines declined by 13.6% and 9.3%, respectively.

West Virginia and Kentucky had the largest declines in the average number of employees in 2015, decreasing by 2,840 (15.5%) and 2,013 employees (17.0%), respectively.

U.S. coal consumption in 2015 was 797.7 million short tons, a decline of 13.1% from 2014. Coal consumption in the electric power sector decreased by 113.6 million short tons to 738.0 million short tons, the lowest level since 1987. Coal consumption in the industrial, coke, and commercial and institutional sectors was 58.6 million short tons in 2015, a 8.9% decrease from the 2014 level.

U.S. coal stocks in 2015 ended at 238.8 million short tons, 20.6% higher than at the same time in 2014. Stocks in the electric power sector were up by 44.1 million short tons to 195.9 million short tons at the end of 2015, the highest year-ending stocks on record. In contrast, coal stocks held by the other industrial, coke, commercial, and institutional sectors were 3.2 million short tons lower at 42.9 million short tons at the end of 2015 than they were at the end of 2014.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.