The United States is endowed with a vast amount of coal. Despite significant uncertainties in generating reliable estimates of the nation’s coal resources and reserves, there are sufficient economically minable reserves to meet anticipated needs through 2030. Further into the future, there is probably sufficient coal to meet the nation’s needs for more than 100 years at current rates of consumption. However, it is not possible to confirm the often-quoted suggestion that there is a sufficient supply of coal for the next 250 years. A combination of increased rates of production with more detailed reserve analyses that take into account location, quality, recoverability, and transportation issues may substantially reduce the estimated number of years supply. Because there are no statistical measures to reflect the uncertainty of the nation’s estimated recoverable reserves, future policy will continue to be developed in the absence of accurate estimates until more detailed reserve analyses—which take into account the full suite of geographical, geological, economic, legal, and environmental characteristics—are completed.
The DRB and the Estimated Recoverable Reserves (ERR), the most cited estimates of coal resources and reserves, are based upon methods for estimating resources and reserves that have not been reviewed or revised since their inception in 1974. Much of the input data for the DRB and ERR also date from the early 1970s. These methods and data are inadequate for informed decision making. New data collection, in conjunction with modern mapping and database technologies that have been proven to be effective in limited areas, could significantly improve the current system of determining the DRB and ERR.
Coal quality is an important parameter that significantly affects the cost of coal mining, beneficiation, transportation, utilization, and waste disposal, as well as its sale value. Coal quality also has substantial impacts on the environment and human health. The USGS coal quality database is largely of only historic value because relatively few coal quality data have been generated in recent years.
Recommendation: A coordinated federal-state-industry initiative to determine the magnitude and characteristics of the nation’s recoverable coal reserves, using modern mapping, coal characterization, and database technologies, should be instituted with the goal of providing policy makers with a comprehensive accounting of national coal reserves within 10 years.
The U.S. Geological Survey already undertakes limited programs that apply modern methods to basin-scale coal reserve and quality assessments. The USGS also has the experience of working with states to develop modern protocols and standards for geological mapping at a national scale through its coordinating role in the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program. The USGS should be funded to work with states, the coal industry, and other federal offices to quantify and characterize the nation’s coal reserves. The committee estimates that a