Coal used to be the dominant resource to feed power generation, but it’s fallen to natural gas and renewable energies. With a drop in coal demand, a Kentucky-based company is looking for a new way to use the resource. They’re hoping to find a way to make coal as versatile as oil, creating new products like car parts, building material, and much more.
When a coal company goes bankrupt, what happens to their mines? Thousands of abandoned mines are scattered across the country. With the US coal industry in crisis, the money for clean up is running out.
Glance at a satellite image of northeast Wyoming, and you can’t miss the coal mines. Even zoomed out, the square-cornered grey blotches stand out—stretching north to south over more than 70 miles. But if all goes according to plan, someday, when the mining is done, those scars will disappear, erased from the landscape by intensive reclamation efforts. Coal companies are on the hook for that cleanup, but the industry’s recent collapse has raised questions about whether they will actually be able to meet those obligations.
As part of a series of listening sessions held across the country, representatives from the Bureau of Land Management recently came to Gillette, Wyo., to meet with residents about the agency’s federal coal program. The meeting quickly turned into an impassioned discussion about the future of the coal industry. Janice Schneider, with the Department of the Interior, said the agency was looking for comments on “how the Bureau of Land Management can best manage its coal resources.” The other issue was whether or not the BLM should charge coal companies higher royalties for coal mined on federal land. Independent studies have found that coal companies may not be charged enough for federal coal.
Even though Wyoming has been the top coal-producing state since 1988 and its coal culture runs deep, the image of the Appalachian coal miner persists in American popular culture. Why? Perhaps because most coal miners still work in Appalachia, even though most coal comes from Wyoming. In 2012, for example, Wyoming produced about 40% of U.S. coal but employed only 8% of coal miners.