According to a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal production in eastern Kentucky declined in 2010, even though the industry saw a slight boost in western Kentucky. The variance in production is partially due to the different mining conditions found in the two regions.
In eastern Kentucky, coal production declined by nearly 10 percent from 2009. But during the same time period, production increased by more than 13 percent in the western part of the state.
William Watson is the EIA’s leader of the coal and uranium analysis team. He says eastern Kentucky coal is lower sulfur than western Kentucky, so it used to be more in demand. But now, most power plants can scrub high-sulfur coal, and it’s cheaper to mine in western Kentucky. So Watson says western Kentucky is more economical than both Appalachian coal and lower energy coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.
“A lot of the power plants now have sulfur dioxide scrubbers, so the idea is to buy the cheapest BTU,” he said. “There’s not as much need now to mix in low-sulfur coal as previously.”
Eastern Kentucky is part of the country’s Appalachian coal-producing region, while western Kentucky is grouped with the Illinois Basin.
Among the states, the biggest boost was in Texas’ coal industry, which increased by nearly 19 percent.