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Coal Mining in the Western Midcontinent Coal Field
Coal is produced from beds of Pennsylvanian and Tertiary age in the Western Midcontinent coal field. Although coal production has increased for the area as a whole during the past 10 years, the individual bituminous coal-producing states within this region have generally undergone a decline in production. Ever increasing production from Texas and Louisiana lignite mines has pushed production for the seven-state area to over 60,000,000 tons per year. It is significant that lignite production for Texas alone was approximately 50,000,000 tons in 1987 with the remaining six states accounting for something over 10,000,000 tons during the year.
Nearly all coal is produced by surface mining methods using draglines, shovels, and heavy equipment. Coal beds range in thickness from 10 inches to over 10 feet. Overburden for current mining operations averages less than 90 feet. Much of the Pennsylvanian coal is high in sulfur with a heat content of 10,000 to less than 15,000 BTU per pound. Lignite ranges in sulfur content from less than .5% to 2%, with a typical heat content ranging from over 4,000 BTU per pound to less than 8,000 BTU per pound.
Use of oil and gas has suppressed the use of coal for fuel purposes during the past 50 to 60 years. More recently, subbituminous coal from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana has been transported into the Western Midcontinent Coal Field for electric power generation. In response to this, Texas and Louisiana have developed their own lignite reserves to reduce the need for out-of-state coal. Oklahoma and Arkansas have passed laws requiring power plants to use a certain minimum percentage of in-state coal.
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