Several measures are used to determine how much coal is left in the United States, which are based on various degrees of geologic certainty and on the economic feasibility of mining the coal.

Did you know?

Six states had 77% of the demonstrated reserve base (DRB) of coal as of January 1, 2016:

West Virginia—6%

Twenty six other states had 23% of the DRB.

Coal reserves at producing mines

Coal mining companies report to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) the amount of recoverable reserves at their U.S. coal mines that produced at least 25,000 short tons of coal (or 10,000 short tons of anthracite coal) in a year.

As of January 1, 2016, about 18.3 billion short tons of recoverable reserves were at producing mines.

The amount of coal reserves at producing mines is a small portion of the total amount of coal that exists in the United States.

How much coal is there?

The amount of much coal that exists in the United States is difficult to estimate because it is buried underground.

  • Total resources is EIA's best estimate of the total amount of coal (including undiscovered coal) in the United States. Total resources are estimated to be about 3.9 trillion short tons.1 Total resources includes several categories of coal with various degrees of geologic assurance and data reliability.
  • The Demonstrated Reserve Base (DRB)2 is the sum of coal in both measured and indicated resource categories of reliability. The DRB represents 100% of the in-place coal that could be mined commercially at a given time. EIA estimates that the DRB in 2015 was 477.1 billion short tons.3
  • Estimated recoverable reserves include only the coal that can be mined with today's mining technology after considering accessibility constraints and recovery factors. EIA estimates that the United States has 254.9 billion short tons of recoverable coal reserves, about 53% of the DRB.

Based on U.S. coal production in 2015 of about 0.9 billion short tons, the U.S. estimated recoverable coal reserves would last about 283 years. The actual number of years that those reserves will last depends on changes in production and reserves estimates.

U.S. coal resource regions
map showing U.S. Coal Resources Regions

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Coal Reserves, March 2017

What are international coal reserves?

As of December 31, 2014, estimates of total world proved recoverable reserves of coal were about 1,237 billion short tons, (or 1.2 trillion short tons).

Five countries had about 75% of the world's coal reserves:

United States—21%

1The most comprehensive national assessment of U.S. coal resources was published by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 1975, which indicated that as of January 1, 1974 coal resources in the United States totaled 4 trillion short tons. Although more recent regional assessments of U.S. coal resources have been conducted by the USGS, a new national level assessment of U.S. coal resources has not been conducted.

2The U.S. Bureau of Mines assessed of the portion of demonstrated resources that was suitable for mining with existing technologies. As of January 1, 1971, the U.S. Bureau of Mines estimated that 434 billion short tons of coal in the demonstrated resource categories lied within what they deemed to be minable coal deposits. The U.S. Bureau of Mines' estimate, published in the 1975 USGS report on U.S. coal resources, was referred to as the DRB of coal. However, it was estimated for 1971, so subsequent updates to the DRB reflecting downward adjustments for production begin with data reported for 1971.

3EIA is responsible for estimating the DRB. EIA's most recent estimate indicated that the DRB had 477.1 billion short tons of in-place coal reserves as of January 1, 2016. This estimate is 43.1 billion short tons more than the original estimate provided by the U.S. Bureau of Mines in 1971. The difference in estimates is primarily a result of new regional assessments of coal resources over the years that have added additional resource tonnage.