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USGS says Powder River Basin has 35 years of coal left, not 250

USGS says Powder River Basin has 35 years of coal left, not 250

Preface. The USGS did a survey of coal in the U.S. in 1974 and announced that America had 250 years of coal left.  In 2007, the National Research Council wrote a report suggesting 100 years was more likely due to “a combination of increased rates of production…transportation issues, recoverability, and location”, and that the USGS ought to re-survey the U.S. to find out.

Not until 2015 was a new survey done on the Powder River Basin (PRB) in Wyoming and Montana, which supplies 45% of U.S. coal.  The USGS found that at best, 40 years of coal were left (35 years in 2020).   Here’s how the USGS calculated this in Billions of Short Tons:

  • 1,156 BST original resources (mostly coal that isn’t economic or technologically obtainable).
  • 1,148 BST after subtracting out previously mined coal
  • 179 BST geological constraints; subtract Environmental, societal, technological restrictions
  • 162 BST Subtract too deep, too thin, high stripping ratios, mining technology limitations
  • 25 BST  2% of original resource estimate after subtracting coal that is more expensive than the market value of coal

Then in 2017, the Little snake river and red desert coal fields were assesed again.  Originally there were 19.37 BST in resources, but at this point in time there is only 1% of this original resource, 167 million short tons of reserves that are economically and technologically obtainable (Shaffer 2017).

There are 5 more basins that the USGS has yet to asses: the Raton and Piceance Basins in the Rocky Mountain Province, the Williston Basin in the Northern Great Plains Province (lignite), the Illinois Basin, the northern Appalachian Basin, and the Gulf Coast Province (lignite) (USGS 2017b).  I question whether lignite is worth getting, it has roughly the same energy as wood.

The only major news media it appeared in was U.S. News and World Report and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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