USGS says small percentage of Powder River Basin coal is actually mineable

Feb 27, 2013

A new US Geological Survey study says that only a small percentage of coal in the Powder River Basin is cost-effective to mine in the current market. According to the USGS, there are more than one trillion tons of coal present in the Basin, of which 162 billion tons could technically be recovered. Of that, it would only be economically viable to mine about 25 billion tons in today’s market.

Project Chief for the US Coal Assessment Program, Jim Luppens, says new geologic data made the study possible.

“In the last 15 or 20 years there’s been tremendous development of coal bed methane wells which gave us a whole new volume of data that has not been interpreted. So, that’s makes this assessment different and even possible. There really were no estimates for the Basin prior to this,” says Luppens.

He says markets could alter how much coal is worth going after.

“The fact that we only have 25 billion tons identified as reserves today is not necessarily mean that that’s all going to be produced out of the Powder River Basin. Through time, if demand and price support additional coal recovery, then those reserves will grow.” 

Luppens says it’s the first time such estimates are available for the whole Basin. He says the coal seams that are not technically mineable could potentially still be used where they are, as in underground coal gasification.