Energy in the United States: 1635-2000  
  Scattered records of the use of coal as a fuel date from at least 1100 BCE. However, coal was not used widely until the Middle Ages, when small mining operations in Europe began to supply it for forges, smithies, lime-burners, and breweries. The invention of firebricks in the late 1400s, which made chimneys cheap to build, helped create a home heating market for coal. Despite its drawbacks (smoke and fumes), coal was firmly established as a domestic fuel by the 1570s. By that time, production in England was high enough that exports were thriving. Some of that coal eventually went to the American colonies.  
  The total amount of coal consumed in the United States in all the years before 1800 was an estimated 108,000 tons, much of it imported. The U.S. market for coal expanded slowly and it was not until 1885 that the young and heavily forested nation burned more coal than wood. However, the arrival of the industrial revolution and the development of the railroads in the mid-nineteenth century inaugurated a period of generally growing production and consumption of coal that continues to the present time. Today, the United States extracts coal in enormous quantities. In 1998 U.S. production of coal reached a record 1.12 billion short tons and was second worldwide after China. U.S. 2000 production was 1.08 billion short tons.  
  From 1885 through 1951, coal was the leading source of energy produced in the United States. Crude oil and natural gas then vied for that role until 1982. Coal regained the position of the top resource that year and again in 1984, and has retained it since. At 23 quadrillion Btu in 2000, coal accounted for nearly a third of all energy produced in the country.  
  Over the past several decades, coal production shifted from primarily underground mines to surface mines (Figure 21). In addition, the coal resources of Wyoming and other areas west of the Mississippi River underwent tremendous development (Figure 22).  
Figure 21. Production by Mining Method
  Figure 21. Production by Mining Method  
Figure 22. Production by Location
  Figure 22.  Production by Location  
  Technological improvements in mining and the shift toward more surface-mined coal, especially west of the Mississippi, have led to great improvements in coal mining productivity. In 1949 U.S. miners produced 0.7 short tons of coal per miner hour; by 1999 that rate had increased to 6.5 short tons per miner hour.  
  Since 1950, the United States has produced more coal than it has consumed. The excess production allowed the United States to become a significant exporter of coal to other nations. In 2000, coal exports totaled 58 million short tons, which accounted for 37 percent of all U.S. energy exports (in Btu terms). About 43 percent of the year's coal exports went to Europe. The top five purchasers of American coal were Canada, Brazil, Japan, Italy, and the United Kingdom. While the physical quantities of coal leaving the country are huge, in 2000 they represented only 6 percent of the Btu content of the petroleum coming into the United States.  
  The uses of coal in the United States have changed dramatically over the years. In the 1950s, most coal was consumed in the industrial sector, but many homes were still heated by coal and the transportation sector still consumed significant amounts in steam-driven trains and ships (Figure 23). In 2000 the industrial sector used less than half as much coal as in 1949 and only 9 percent of all coal consumed in the United States. The quantities that went to the residential, commercial, and transportation sectors were trivial. Electricity generation, however, used enormous amounts of coal and accounted for nearly 92 percent of all coal consumed in the United States in 2000.  
Figure 23. Coal Consumption by Sector
  Figure 23. Coal Consumption by Sector  
NPP1 = nonutility power producers
  Coal-fired electric generating units emit gases that are of environmental concern. In 1999 U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from the combustion of coal for electric power generation were over half a billion metric tons of carbon, one-third of total carbon dioxide emitted from all U.S. fuel sources.  
  Except for a post-oil-embargo price spike that peaked in 1975, real (inflation adjusted) coal prices have generally fallen over the last half-century. The average price in 1999 was 47 percent lower than it was in 1949. Even before the steep price runups for natural gas and crude oil in 2000, coal was the least expensive of the major fossil fuels in this country. In nominal dollars, 2000 production prices for coal were 80 cents per million Btu compared with $3.24 per million Btu for natural gas and $4.61 per million Btu for crude oil.

Obtained from