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Coal - Locations Of Coal Deposits

west production total mined

Coal is found in about 13%, or 458,600 square miles, of the total land area of the United States. (See Figure 4.1.) Geologists have divided U.S. coalfields into three geographical zones: the Appalachian, Interior, and Western regions. The Appalachian region is subdivided into three areas: Northern (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and northern West Virginia); Central (Virginia, southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and Tennessee); and Southern Appalachia (Alabama). Coal production in the Interior region occurs in Illinois, Indiana, western Kentucky, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas. The Western region includes the Northern Great Plains (Montana, Wyoming, northern Colorado, and North and South Dakota), the Rocky Mountains, the Southwest (southern Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico), and the Northwest (Washington and Alaska).

Historically, more coal has been mined east of the Mississippi River than west of the Mississippi, but the West's proportion of total production has increased almost every year since 1965, overtaking the east in 1999. (See Table 4.1.) In 1965 the production of coal in the West was 27 million short tons, only 5% of the national total. By 1999 western production had increased more than twenty-fold, to 570.8 million short tons, or 52% of the total. The amount of coal mined east of the Mississippi that year was 529.6 million short tons. In 2003 slightly more than 601 million short tons of coal were mined west of the Mississippi, while slightly more than 468 million short tons were mined to the east. Western production neared 56% of the total mined.

The growth in coal production in the West has been partly the result of environmental concerns that have led to an increased demand for low-sulfur coal, which is concentrated in the West. In addition, surface mining, which is cheaper and more efficient, is more prevalent in the West. Finally, improved rail service has made it easier to deliver this low-sulfur coal to utility plants located east of the Mississippi River.

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