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Wyoming Coal


Wyoming coal fields Wyoming has been the leading coal producing state in the United States since 1986; in fact, more coal is produced from the 16 coal mines in Wyoming than from all of the mines in the next seven leading coal-producing states combined. Coal produced in Wyoming accounts for more than 40 percent of the annual U.S. coal supply, and Wyoming coal contributes between $900 million and $1.2 billion in revenue to state and local governments annually.

Wyoming is divided into two major coal regions, the Rocky Mountain and the Northern Great Plains Provinces (see map at right). These areas are further subdivided into 10 coal fields defined by the extent of coal-bearing geologic formations within sedimentary basins.

Coal in Wyoming occurs in rock sequences deposited during the Cretaceous Period 138 to 65 million years ago (mya), the Paleocene Epoch (65 to 55 mya), and the Eocene Epoch (55 to 43 mya). The climate at those times was mostly warm and humid, suitable for substantial growth of vegetative material in fresh-water swamps. Organic material that accumulated in these environments was buried and transformed into the coal of Wyoming today. See the WSGS Coal Geology Page for more information.

2016-17 Wyoming Coal Mining Facts

A downturn in the coal industry occurred in 2016 due to low world demand, which was attributable to low natural gas prices for electricity generation, warmer than normal winter temperatures, and the retirement of many old coal-fired generators. Two hundred ninety-four million short tons (MT) of coal were produced in Wyoming in 2016, down 22 percent from the 375 MT produced in 2015, and registering at the lowest amount in Wyoming since 1997. Coal was produced at mines in Campbell, Converse, Lincoln, and Sweetwater Counties, but statewide coal industry employment dropped to 5,627 employees in December 2016, 713 fewer employees than March 2016. Coal production charts can be found on the WSGS Coal Production & Mining Page.

In 2016, the average spot price for Powder River Basin (PRB) coal was $9.29 per short ton, with long-term contracts at approximately $13.92 per short ton (EIA data, 2017), making Wyoming PRB coal the most affordable coal in the nation. Coal produced in Wyoming is generally subbituminous and moderately low-ash, and some coal resources in the Powder River Basin are considered “super-compliant” with respect to environmental requirements at less than 0.2 percent sulfur. These qualities make Wyoming coal excellent “steam coal” for electricity generation at power plants throughout the United States and desirable for industrial and commercial use.

Collecting coal samplesWyoming Power Plants

There are 10 electric utility coal-fired power plants and three industrial coal-fired power plants in Wyoming. More than 26 MT of coal are consumed annually at those power plants, generating 90 percent of Wyoming’s electricity; the remaining 8 percent is produced by wind. Because Wyoming has such a small population, two-thirds of the electricity produced is exported to nearby states.

Powder River Basin Mines

The portion of the Powder River Basin that lies within Wyoming hosts 12 large surface coal mines, including eight of the nation’s largest 10 coal mines. One mine is in Converse County, and the other 11 are in Campbell County. See the WSGS Powder River Basin Coal Page for more information.

Wyoming Coal Research

The Wyoming State Geological Survey coal team studies coal resources to determine the extent of known coal beds and coal quality. They also interpret the history of coal deposition and evolution of the sedimentary basins where coal formed. Stratigraphic and coal quality data compiled from WSGS studies can be used for exploration in the coal and petroleum industries, for developing government regulations, and for and scientific investigations.