using updated methods indicate that only a small fraction of previously estimated reserves are economically recoverable. Such findings emphasize the need for a reinvigorated coal reserve assessment program using modern methods and technologies to provide a sound basis for informed decision making.
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 committee recommends that the U.S. Geological Survey should lead a federal-state-industry initiative to quantify and characterize the nation’s coal reserves, and estimates that this will require additional funding of approximately $10 million per year.
Regardless of the precise levels of future coal production, the coal mines of the future will encounter a range of new or more difficult mining and processing challenges as more easily accessed coal seams are depleted and the industry turns to less accessible reserves. Surface operations will mine deeper seams that require increased stripping ratios and multiple benches, and underground mines will need to access seams that are deeper, thinner, or thicker, generally with higher methane content and potentially presenting greater difficulties with strata control. These more difficult mining conditions will require improved methods to protect the health and safety of mine workers, careful environmental management of mined lands and waste products, and improved recovery to optimize use of the nation’s coal resource.
A range of factors increase health and safety risks to the coal mining workforce, including the introduction of new equipment and systems; the commencement of mining in virgin areas; the infusion of new workers; and the mining of multiple seams and seams that are thinner, thicker, or deeper than those customarily mined at present, as well as new seams that underlie or overlie previously mined-out seams. All of these factors are likely to apply to some degree in future mines, and such risks are likely to become more pronounced if coal production levels increase. There are major knowledge gaps and technology needs in the areas of survival, escape, communications systems (both surface-to-underground and underground-to-underground), and emergency preparedness and rescue. Additional risk factors that are likely to apply in the deeper mines of the