Coal 'steadying' here and statewide, industry group official says

Rick Shrum
Observer Reporter

Coal, which has been on a decadelong decline in the state, apparently is burning more brightly.

The Pennsylvania Coal Association, an industry group based in Harrisburg, this week released the results of a study titled “The Economic Impact of the Coal Industry in Pennsylvania.” Among the findings: The industry statewide produced 17,700 jobs, $6.9 billion in value and 49 million tons of coal in 2017. Then last year, the Keystone State was the third-largest coal-producing state.

The study was conducted by the Pennsylvania Economy League of Greater Pittsburgh, an affiliate of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

In a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon, Rachel Gleason, executive director of the PCA, acknowledged that Pennsylvania endured a 10-million-ton decrease in production over a decade ending about two years ago. She added that “I think a large part of that reduction was from your part of the state.”

This was in response to a question about the closures of mines and coal-fired power plants in Washington and Greene counties.

Gleason, however, added that “the industry has been steadying” in those counties and across the state, and credited production of “full extraction coal” in Washington and Greene for helping to spark that rally.

“From a volume standpoint, most of that coal comes from Greene and Washington,” she said. Gleason spoke specifically about Consol’s Pennsylvania Mining Complex, located in those two counties. It is the largest underground coal mining complex in North America. She also referenced Cumberland Mine near Waynesburg.

One reporter asked about natural gas passing coal as an electric power generating source. “”Natural gas is the largest competitor to coal because of its low price,” Gleason said. “A decade ago, natural gas was much more expensive.”

Mine closures have been common – the U.S. Energy Information Administration has reported that more than half of the coal mines operating in 2008 have closed. Some have reopened, however, a fact Gleason acknowledged.

Among other conclusions derived from the 2017 numbers:

  • Of those aforementioned 17,770 jobs linked to the industry, 6,000 individuals were directly tied to mining activity and 11,000 to indirect and induced jobs.
  • Of the 49 million tons of coal, 47.2 million were bituminous and 1.8 million anthracite (largely northeastern Pennsylvania).
  • Fifty-eight percent of the bituminous coal produced was used for electric generation, providing 213 million hours of electricity.
  • Pennsylvania coal was shipped to 23 states.
  • Individuals directly employed by coal producers were paid an average annual wage of $89,342, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average for workers in indirect or induced businesses was $57,952.
  • Coal accounted for 58 percent of Pennsylvania’s total rail shipments.