Usable US Coal Reserves a Fraction of Earlier Estimates

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 8, 2009 10:03 AM CDT
In this April 30, 2007 file photo, a shovel prepares to dump a load of coal into a 320-ton truck at the Black Thunder Mine in Wright, Wyo.   (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)
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(Newser) – For years the government has estimated that the US has 240 years' worth of coal in the ground, causing officials to dub the US the “Saudi Arabia of Coal.” But that estimate may be grossly exaggerated, the Wall Street Journal reports. While there probably is 240 years' worth of coal in the ground, most of it can’t be profitably extracted.

In Wyoming’s Gillette coal field, the nation’s largest coal bed, less than 6% of the black stuff can be extracted and sold profitably, even if coal prices increase. The US isn’t facing a shortage, but “peak coal” theorists believe current production levels could be unsustainable. “We really can’t say we’re the Saudi Arabia of coal anymore,” said one geologist.