Eighty-five trains snake their way out of the Powder River Basin every day, each one hauling up to 15,000 tons of coal that will keep the lights on at homes and businesses across the United States and help keep Wyoming’s economic development strong.Wyoming's coal contribution to America’s energy goals — an affordable, abundant and independent source of power — can’t be overstated, says Marion Loomis, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association. Neither can its importance to families and businesses across the state. “Wyoming’s coal industry has a major impact here and across the nation,” says Loomis. As the United States explores cleaner and greener energy sources, coal is expected to continue playing a major role thanks to new technologies being explored by the University of Wyoming and General Electric. Abundant, Independent Energy The facts speak for themselves:
- The United States has a 245-year supply of coal at current rates of use, according to the American Coal Foundation. That makes it a crucial resource in the country’s quest for independence from foreign energy sources.
- Half of the country’s electricity comes from coal. More than a third of the coal used to produce electric power comes from the Powder River Basin (PRB).
- PRB coal contains just a fraction of the sulfur that eastern coal contains, so it burns cleaner, helping America reach its clean air goals.
- The mining industry paid the local, state and federal government taxes, royalties and fees of $1.8 billion in 2009.
- 7,285 people are employed in Wyoming’s coal mining industry.
- With an average wage of $20 to $25 per hour, the industry has a direct payroll of $730 million, including benefits.
- Up to 21,855 additional workers have jobs thanks to the mining industry’s economic impact. Each mining job creates up to three additional jobs, says Loomis.
L&H Industrial After-Market PartsTwo hundred of those spinoff jobs are at the Gillette headquarters of L&H Industrial, a major after-market supplier of rebuilt and replacement mining industry parts. The company has an additional 200 employees at locations worldwide. “Coal built our company, and L&H helped build coal,” says Vice President Jeff Wandler. “I think coal is going to be here as long as people want energy. I don’t see any alternative to it.” High Plains Coal Gasification To ensure that Wyoming coal remains a viable energy source in the future, GE Energy and the University of Wyoming have partnered to research advanced coal gasification technologies. Together they are developing the High Plains Gasification-Advanced Technology Center in Laramie County. The $100 million to $120 million research and technology center will explore methods of using Wyoming coal to produce electricity, hydrogen, chemicals and other forms of energy while virtually eliminating air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists and engineers at the Wyoming Carbon Management Institute are actively researching another promising method of making coal a greener energy source. Their idea, called carbon sequestration, is to capture the carbon dioxide in coal and store it deep underground instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. Managers of the $17 million research project are conducting multiyear tests to see if the desert near Rock Springs is the best spot to inject CO2 as deep as 13,000 feet underground, says coordinator Lynn Boomgaarden. Storing CO2 securely underground will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, says Boomgaarden, a goal that for Wyoming is “particularly important to the viability of the state’s coal industry.”