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Coal is a rich source of energy formed from plants that grew in swamps tens to hundreds of millions of years ago. The plants were buried deeply under younger and younger layers of dirt and rock, heated, and compressed into a carbon-rich rock.[1] Burning coal releases more carbon dioxide per unit of energy produced than any other fossil fuel.[2]

Why does coal matter?

The United States has more estimated recoverable coal reserves than any other nation and is a net exporter of coal. In 2013, coal provided 39% of the electricity consumed across the country, and 93% of coal produced in the United States was used to generate electricity.[3]

How does geoscience inform decisions about coal?

An example of anthracite coal, the purest grade of coal. Copyright Dr. Richard Busch, Image source: Earth Science World Image Bank

Geologists locate coal resources, assess coal deposit volume and extent, and determine coal quality and composition for use in different industrial processes.[4][5] Geoscientists also study the impacts of coal production and consumption on air and water quality.

Introductory resources

Web overview of how coal was formed, types of coal, coal production (mining, processing, and transporting), where U.S. coal comes from, imports and exports, how much coal is left, uses of coal, prices and price outlook, and environmental impacts of coal.
An in-depth overview of the current role of each fossil fuel energy source in the United States, the benefits and disadvantages of each energy source, and opportunities and challenges for using that energy source in the future. (Discusses coal, oil, and natural gas.)
An overview of new technologies to increase the efficiency of electricity generation and reduce the CO2 emissions from coal.

Frequent questions


  1. Coal Explained, EIA,
  2. How much carbon dioxide is produced when different fuels are burned?, EIA Frequently Asked Questions,
  3. What is the role of coal in the United States?, EIA Energy In Brief,
  4. Coal Assessments Overview, USGS Energy Resources Program,
  5. Coal Quality Overview, USGS Energy Resources Program,

See also

External links

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