"If it can't be grown, it must be mined"

Natural resources are the foundation for our lives and lifestyles.

What would our lives be like without mining? Imagine a world without transportation such as jet planes or railroads, without communications such as cell phones or radar, without decorative items such as art or jewelry, without buildings such as skyscrapers or parking garages, without defense systems items such as missiles or submarines, without medical care items such as X-rays or surgical tools. We wouldn’t have any of these things without mining and minerals.

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Type: commodity


Coal is one of the world’s major sources of energy. Coal is used to produce nearly half of all the electrical energy that is generated and used in the United States. Coal is a very complex and diverse energy resource that can vary greatly, even within the same deposit. In general, there are four basic varieties of coal, which are the result of geologic forces having altered plant material in different ways.

Lignite: Increased pressures and heat from overlying strata causes buried peat to dry and harden into lignite. Lignite is a brownish-black coal with generally high moisture and ash content and lower heating value. However, it is an important form of energy for generating electricity. Significant lignite mining operations are located in Texas, North Dakota, Louisiana and Montana.

Sub-bituminous: Under still more pressure, some lignite is changed into the next rank of coal subbituminous. This is a dull black coal with a higher heating value than lignite that is used primarily for generating electricity and for space heating. Most subbituminous reserves are located in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Washington and Alaska.

Bituminous: Even greater pressure results in the creation of bituminous, or “soft” coal. This is the type most commonly used for electric power generation in the U.S. It has a higher heating value than either lignite or subbituminous, but less than that of anthracite. Bituminous coal is mined chiefly in Appalachia and the Midwest. It is also used to make coke for steel production.

Anthracite: Sometimes called “hard coal,” anthracite forms from bituminous coal when great pressures developed in folded rock strata during the creation of mountain ranges. This occurs only in limited geographic areas - primarily the Appalachian region of Pennsylvania. Anthracite has the highest energy content of all coals and is used for space heating and generating electricity.


In 2012, over one billion short tons of coal were mined in 25 states. Wyoming mined the most coal, followed by West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Appalachian coal region

Twenty nine percent of the coal produced in the United States comes from the Appalachian coal region.

West Virginia is the largest coal-producing state in the region, and the second-largest coal-producing state in the United States.

Coal mined in the Appalachian coal region is primarily used for steam generation for electricity, coke production, and for export.

Interior coal region 

Illinois is the largest coal producer in the Interior region, accounting for 27% of the region's coal production.

The Interior coal region has mid-sized surface mines.

Western coal region 

More than half of the coal produced in the United States is produced in the Western coal region.

The Powder River Basin of Wyoming is the largest coal producing area in this region.  Wyoming is the largest coal-producing state in the nation. Nine of the top 10 producing coal mines in the United States are located in Wyoming.

The Western coal region has many large surface mines.

Some of the largest coal mines in the world are in the Western coal region.

Related Resources:

Coal SMART Board lesson