Natural Resources Research

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 189–208 | Cite as

Trends in U.S. Recoverable Coal Supply Estimates and Future Production Outlooks

  • Mikael Höök
  • Kjell Aleklett


The geological coal resource of the U.S. is abundant and proved coal reserves are listed as the world’s largest. However, the reserves are unevenly distributed and located in a small number of states, giving them major influence over future production. A long history of coal mining provides detailed time series of production and reserve estimates, which can be used to identify historical trends. In reviewing the historical evolution of coal reserves, one can state that the trend here does not point toward any major increases in available recoverable reserves; rather the opposite is true due to restrictions and increased focus on environmental impacts from coal extraction. Future coal production will not be entirely determined by what is geologically available, but rather by the fraction of that amount that is practically recoverable. Consequently, the historical trend toward reduced recoverable amounts is likely to continue into the future, with even stricter regulations imposed by increased environmental concern. Long-term outlooks can be created in many ways, but ultimately the production must be limited by recoverable volumes since coal is a finite resource. The geologic amounts of coal are of much less importance to future production than the practically recoverable volumes. The geological coal supply might be vast, but the important question is how large the share that can be extracted under present restrictions are and how those restrictions will develop in the future. Production limitations might therefore appear much sooner than previously expected.


US coal reserves future production peak coal 



We would like to thank S.H. Mohr and G.M. Evans from The University of Newcastle, Australia, for constructive discussions and assistance with proofreading. In addition, we would like to express our gratitude to Robert Hirsch and Dave Rutledge for providing comments and input.


  1. Ackerman, F., Biewald, B., White, D., Woolf, T., and Moomaw, W., 1999, Grandfathering and coal plant emissions: the cost of cleaning up the Clean Air Act: Energy Policy, v. 27, p. 929–940.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adelman, M. A., 1990, Mineral depletion, with special reference to petroleum: Rev. Econ. Stat., v. 72, p. 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Akinlo, A. E., 2002, Energy consumption and economic growth: evidence from 11 Sub-Sahara African countries: Energy Econ., v. 30, p. 2391–2400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. American Association of Petroleum Geologists, 2007, Unconventional energy resources and geospatial information: 2006 review: Nat. Resour. Res., v. 16, p. 243–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Annual Coal Report, 2001–2007, EIA—Annual Coal Report 2007 and other issues, DOE/EIA 0584(2007),
  6. Averitt, P., 1975, Coal resources of the United States: US Geol. Surv. Bull., v. 1412, p. 131.Google Scholar
  7. Ayres, R. U., 2006, Turning point: the end of exponential growth? Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change, v. 73, p. 1188–1203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bang, G., 2010, Energy security and climate change concerns: triggers for energy policy change in the United States? Energy Policy, v. 38, p. 1645–1653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bardi, U., 2005, The mineral economy: a model for the shape of oil production curves: Energy Policy, v. 33, p. 53–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bardi, U., 2007, Energy prices and resource depletion: lessons from the case of whaling in the nineteenth century: Energy Sour. B, v. 2, p. 297–304.Google Scholar
  11. Bardi, U., and Yaxley, L., 2005, How general is the Hubbert curve? The case of fisheries, in Article Presented at the Fourth International Workshop on Oil and Gas Depletion (IWOOD 4), 19–20 May, Lisbon, Portugal: See also:
  12. Bartlett, A. A., 1993, Arithmetic of growth: methods of calculation: Popul. Environ., v. 14, p. 359–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bartlett, A. A., 1999, Arithmetic of growth: methods of calculation II: Popul. Environ., v. 20, p. 215–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bartlett, A. A., 2004, The essential exponential! For the future of our planet: Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska (302 p).Google Scholar
  15. Bartlett, A. A., 2006, A depletion protocol for non-renewable natural resources: Australia as an example: Nat. Resour. Res., v. 15, p. 151–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. BGR, 1980–2007, Reserves, resources and availability of energy resources 2007 and previous reports: See also:
  17. Bishop, M. G., 1996, The paper power plant: Utah’s Kaiparowits’s Project and the politics of environmentalism: J. West, v. 35, p. 26–35.Google Scholar
  18. BP, 2009, BP statistical review of world energy 2009: See also:
  19. Bromley, D. A., 2002, Science, technology, and politics: Technol. Soc., v. 24, p. 9–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Bullard, C. W., Penner, P. S., and Pilati, D. A., 1978, Net energy analysis: handbook for combining process and input-output analysis: Resour. Energy, v. 1, p. 267–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Carter, M. D., and Gardner, N. K., 1989, An assessment of coal resources available for development, central Appalachian region: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 89-362, 52 p:
  22. Cleveland, C. J., 2005, Net energy from the extraction of oil and gas in the United States: Energy, v. 30, p. 769–782.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Cleveland, C., Constanza, R., Hall, C. A. S., and Kaufmann, R., 1984, Energy and the U.S Economy: a biophysical perspective: Science, v. 225, p. 890–897.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Coal Industry Annual, 1994–1999, EIA—Coal Industry Annual 1996 and other issues: DOE/EIA-0584(96),
  25. Cook, E., 1977, Energy: the ultimate resource? Resource Papers for College Geography, no. 77–74, 42 pGoogle Scholar
  26. Dasgupta, P., and Heal, G. M., 1979, Economic theory and exhaustible resources: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (501 p).Google Scholar
  27. EIA, 1989, Estimation of U.S. coal reserves by coal type: heat and sulfur content. DOE/EIA-0529(92), October 1989: EIA, Washington DC.Google Scholar
  28. EIA, 1996, U.S. Coal Reserves. Appendix A, Specialized Resource and Reserve Terminology, 1996,
  29. EIA, 1997, U.S. Coal Reserves: 1997 Update:
  30. EIA, 2005, Repeal of the Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act (1987):
  31. Einstein, A., 1905, Ist die Trägheit eines Körpers von seinem Energieinhalt abhängig? Annalen der Physik, v. 323, p. 639–641.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Eggleston, J. R., Carter, M. D., and Cobb, J. C., 1990, Coal resources available for development — a methodology and pilot study: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1055, 15 p,
  33. Ehrlich, P. R., Ehrlich, A. H., and Holdren, J. P., 1970, Ecoscience: population, resources, environment: W.H Freeman and Company, San Francisco, p. 1051.Google Scholar
  34. Ellerman, A. D., Joskow, P. L., Schmalenesee, R., Montero, J. P., and Bailey, E., 2000, Markets for clean air-The US acid rain program: Cambridge University Press, New York (363 p).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Environmental Protection Agency, 1990, 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act:
  36. Environmental Protection Agency, 2005, Clean Air Mercury Rule:
  37. Epple, D., and Londregan, J., 1993, Strategies for modelling exhaustible resources supply, in Kneese, A. V., and Sweeney, J. L., eds., Handbook of Natural Resource and Energy Economics, Vol. III: Elsevier Science, Oxford, p. 1077–1107.Google Scholar
  38. Feng, L., Junchen, L., and Pang, X., 2008, China’s oil reserve forecast and analysis based on peak oil models: Energy Policy, v. 36, p. 4149–4153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Fitzpatrick, A., Hitchon, B., and McGregor, J. R., 1973, Long-term growth of the oil industry in the United States: Math. Geol., v. 5, p. 237–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Gately, M., 2007, The EROI of U.S. offshore energy extraction: a net energy analysis of the Gulf of Mexico: Ecol. Econ., v. 63, p. 355–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Green, M. B., 1978, Eating oil: energy use in food production: Westview Press, Boulder, CO (223 p).Google Scholar
  42. Harris, D. P., 1990, Mineral exploration decisions: guide to economic analysis and modelling: Wiley, New York (436 p).Google Scholar
  43. Hatch, J. R., and Affolter, R. H., 2002, Resource Assessment of the Springfield, Herrin, Danville, and Baker Coals in the Illinois Basin: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1625-D,
  44. Hebert, H. J., 2008, Utah coal plant permit blocked by EPA panel: Fox News, 13 November 2008, see also:,4670,CoalPlants,00.html.
  45. Hettinger, R. D., Roberts, L. N. R., Biewick, L. R. H., and Kirschbaum, M. A., 1996, Preliminary investigations of the distribution and resources of coal in the Kaiparowits Plateau, southern Utah: USGS Open file report 96-539,
  46. Hondroyiannis, G., Lolos, S., and Papapetrou, E., 2002, Energy consumption and economic growth: assessing the evidence from Greece: Energy Econ., v. 24, p. 319–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Hu, J., Chen, Y., and Zhang, S., 1995, A new model for predicting production and reserves of oil and gas fields: Acta Petrolei Sinica, v. 16, p. 79–86.Google Scholar
  48. Hubbert, M. K., 1956, Nuclear energy and the fossil fuels, in Presented before the Spring Meeting of the Southern District, American Petroleum Institute, Plaza Hotel, San Antonio, Texas, March 7–9,
  49. Hubbert, M. K., 1959, Techniques of prediction with application to the petroleum industry, published in 44th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists: Shell Development Company, Dallas, TX (43 p).Google Scholar
  50. Hubbert, M. K., 1982, Response to David Nissens remarks: See also:
  51. Höök, M., 2009, Depletion and decline curve analysis in crude oil production: Licentiate Thesis from Uppsala University,
  52. Höök, M., and Aleklett, K., 2009, Historical trends in American coal production and a possible future outlook: Int. J. Coal Geol., v. 78, p. 201–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Höök, M., Söderbergh, B., Jakobsson, K., and Aleklett, K., 2009, The evolution of giant oil field production behaviour: Nat. Resour. Res., v. 18, p. 39–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. IEA, 2008, Key World Energy Statistics 2008: See also:
  55. Jakobsson, K., Söderbergh, B., Höök, M., and Aleklett, K., 2009, How reasonable are oil production scenarios from public agencies? Energy Policy, v. 37, p. 4809–4818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Kavalov, B., and Peteves, S. D., 2007, The future of coal: European Commission Joint Research Centre study, February 2007, see also:
  57. Livernois, J. R., 1988, Estimates of marginal discovery costs for oil and gas: Can. J. Econ., v. 21, p. 379–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Luppens, J. A., Rohrbacher, T. J., Haacke, J. E., Scott, D. C., and Osmonson, L. M., 2006, Status Report: USGS Coal Assessment of the Powder River, Wyoming: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2006-1072,
  59. Luppens, J. A., Scott, D. C., Haacke, J. E., Osmonson, L. M., Rohrbacher, T. J., and Ellis, M. S., 2008, Assessment of Coal Geology, Resources, and Reserves in the Gillette Coalfield, Powder River Basin, Wyoming: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2008-1202, 127 p,
  60. McCollum, D. L., and Ogden, J. M., 2009, Future impacts of coal distribution constraints on coal costs: Transport. Res. E, v. 45, p. 460–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Milici, R. C., 1996, Production trends of major U.S. coal-producing regions. in Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Coal Conference, “Coal, Energy, and the Environment”: University of Pittsburgh, Center for Energy Research, v. 2, p. 755–760.Google Scholar
  62. Milici, R. C., 1997, The Coalprod database: historical production data for the major coal-producing regions of the conterminous United States: U.S.G.S. Open-file report 97-447,
  63. Milici, R. C., 2000, Depletion of Appalachian coal reserves–how soon? Int. J. Coal Geol., v. 44, p. 251–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Milici, R. C., and Campbell, E. V. M., 1997, A Predictive Production Rate Life-Cycle Model for Southwestern Virginia Coalfields: Geological Survey Circular 1147,
  65. Modis, T., 2007, Strengths and weaknesses of S-curves: Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change, v. 74, p. 866–872.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Modis, T., and Debecker, A., 1992, Chaoslike States can be expected before and after logistic growth: Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change, v. 41, p. 111–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Mohr, S. H., and Evans, G. M., 2009, Forecasting coal production until 2100: Fuel, v. 88, p. 2059–2067.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Moore, C. L., 1966, Projections of U. S. petroleum supply to 1980, with annex entitled: the Gompertz curve for analyzing and projecting the historic supply patterns of exhaustible natural resources, technical report: Office of Oil and Gas, Washington, DC (47 p).Google Scholar
  69. National Academy of Sciences, 1977, Coal as an energy resource: conflict and consensus: Record of the forum convened at the National Academy of Sciences, Apr. 4–6, 1977, 326 pGoogle Scholar
  70. National Academy of Sciences, 1978, Coal Mining, in Report Prepared by the Ad Hoc Panel on Coal Mining Technology of the Committee on Processing and Utilization of Fossil Fuels.Google Scholar
  71. National Coal Council, 1987, Reserve data base: Report from June 1987, 125 p, Synopsis available from
  72. National Petroleum Council, 2007, Facing hard truths about energy: Report from 2007,
  73. Nie, M. A., 1999, In wilderness is dissension: the contentious battle over Utah’s wilderness is marked by a cultural clash: Forum Appl. Res. Public Policy, v. 14, p. 77–83.Google Scholar
  74. O’Brien, B., 1997, The Effects of Title IV of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 on Electric Utilities: an Update: EIA Report, DOE/EIA-058297, distribution category UC-950,
  75. Obama, B., 2009, Remarks by the President on jobs, energy independence, and climate change: East Room of the White House, January 26, 2009, see also:
  76. Patiño-Echeverri, D., Fischbeck, P., and Kriegler, E., 2009, Economic and environmental costs of regulatory uncertainty for coal-fired power plants: Environ. Sci. Technol., v. 43, p. 578–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Payne, J. E., 2010a, Survey of the international evidence on the causal relationship between energy consumption and growth: J. Econ. Stud., v. 37, p. 53–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Payne, J. E., 2010b, A survey of the electricity consumption-growth literature: Appl. Energy, v. 87, p. 723–731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Perry, H., 1971, Energy: the ultimate resource, in Committee Print Prepared for the Task Force on Energy of the Subcommittee on Science, Research, and Development of the Committee on Science and Astronautics: U.S. House of Representatives, 92nd Congress, First Session, October 1971, 212 p.Google Scholar
  80. Petsch, G., 1982, Environmental problems of coal production in the federal republic of Germany with particular reference to the Ruhr: Environ. Geochem. Health, v. 4, p. 75–80.Google Scholar
  81. Pfieffer, D. A., 2006, Eating fossil fuels: oil, food and the coming crisis in agriculture: New Society Publishers, Philadelphia (125 p).Google Scholar
  82. Pickering, A., 2008, The oil reserves production relationship: Energy Econ., v. 30, p. 352–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Pimentel, D., Hurd, L. E., Bellotti, A. C., Forster, M. J., Oka, I. N., Sholes, O. D., and Whitman, R. J., 1973, Food production and the energy crisis: Science, v. 182, p. 443–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Pimentel, D., 2007, Food, energy and society: CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL (380 p).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Pinnock, M., 1997, Productivity in Australian coal mines - how are we meeting the challenges? Aust. Coal Rev., v. 3, p. 6–10.Google Scholar
  86. Powell, A. K., 1994, Utah history encyclopedia: University of Utah Press, Also available from:
  87. Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act, 1978, Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act of 1978:
  88. Raffensperger, L., 2008, The highs and lows of the Antiquities Act: National Public Radio,
  89. Rodríguez, X. A., and Arias, C., 2008, The effects of resource depletion on coal mining productivity: Energy Econ., v. 30, p. 397–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Rohrbacher, T. J., Teeters, D. D., Sullivan, G. L., and Osmonson, L. M., 1993, Coal resource recoverability—a methodology: U.S. Bureau of Mines Circular 9368,
  91. Ruppert, L., Kirschbaum, M., Warwick, P., Flores, R., Affolter, R., and Hatch, J., 2002, The US Geological Survey’s national coal resource assessment: the results: Int. J. Coal Geol., v. 50, p. 247–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Skrebowski, C., 2008, Entering the Foothills of Peak Oil, in Presentation Held at the International ASPO 7 Conference, 20–21 October 2008, Barcelona, Spain: See also:
  93. Spreng, D. T., 1988, Net energy analysis and the energy requirements of energy systems: Greedwood Press, Westport, CT (296 p).Google Scholar
  94. Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, 1977, Public Law 95-87—the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA): Passed 3 August 1977 and all revisions through 31 December 1993,
  95. Tilton, J. E., 2003, Assessing the threat of mineral depletion: Minerals Energy, v. 18, p. 33–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Tobin, R. J., 1984, Air quality and coal—the US experience: Energy Policy, v. 12, p. 342–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Topp, V., Soames, L., Parham, D., and Bloch, H., 2008, Productivity in the mining industry: measurement and interpretation: Productivity Commission Staff Working Paper, see also:
  98. Tsoularis, A., and Wallace, J., 2002, Analysis of logistic growth models: Math. Biosci., v. 179, p. 21–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2007, Annual Report of Lands Under Control of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service,
  100. USGS, 1976, Coal resource classification system of the U.S. Bureau of Mines and U.S. Geological Survey: U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1450-B,
  101. U.S. Bureau of Mines, 1933–1976, Minerals yearbook: U.S. Government Printing Office Washington D.C.,
  102. U.S. National Academies, 2007, Coal: research and development to support national energy policy: The National Academies Press, Washington DC (184 p).Google Scholar
  103. USGS Central Region Energy Resources Team, 1999, 1999 Resource assessment of selected tertiary coal beds and zones in the Northern Rocky Mountains and Great Plains Region: USGS Professional Paper 1625-A,
  104. USGS Central Region Energy Resources Team, 2000, Geologic assessment of coal in the Colorado Plateau: Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1625-B,
  105. USGS Northern and Central Appalachian Basin Coal Regions Assessment Team, 2001, 2000 Resource assessment of selected coal beds and zones in the Northern and Central Appalachian Basin Coal Regions: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1625-C,
  106. van Rensburg, W. C. J., 1975, ‘Reserves’ as a leading indicator to future mineral production: Resour. Policy, v. 1, p. 343–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  107. van Rensburg, W. C. J., 1982, The relationship between resources and reserves estimates for US coal: Resour. Policy, v. 8, p. 53–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  108. Verhulst, P. F., 1838, Notice sur la loi que la population suit dans son accroissement: Correspond. Math. Phys., v. 10, p. 113–121.Google Scholar
  109. Ward, K., 2008, Obama expected to tighten coal regulations: Charleston Gazette, 9 November 2008,
  110. Watson, W. D., Ruppert, L. F., Tewalt, S. J., and Bragg, L. J., 2001, The Upper Pennsylvanian Pittsburgh coal bed: resources and mine models: Nat. Resour. Res., v. 10, p. 21–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  111. Wilkinson, C., 2004, Fire on the Plateau: Island Press, Washington DC (416 p).Google Scholar
  112. Wood, G. H., Kehn, T. M. Carter, M. D., and Culbertson W. C., 1983, Coal Resource Classification System of the U.S. Geological Survey: Geological Survey Circular 891,
  113. World Energy Council, 1924–2007, Survey of Energy Resources 2007 and previous reports and statistical yearbooks from previous world power conferences: World Energy Council, London,
  114. Yeager, K. E., and Baruch, S. B., 1987, Environmental issues affecting coal technology: a perspective on US trends: Annu. Rev. Energy, v. 12, p. 471–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  115. Zimmerman, M. B., 1981, The U.S. Coal Industry, the economics of policy choice: MIT Press, Cambridge (256 p).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© International Association for Mathematical Geology 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of physics and astronomyUppsala University, Global Energy SystemsUppsalaSweden

Personalised recommendations