“Preliminary data from year-end 2012 indicates that total coal production in Kentucky decreased by more than 16.3 per cent from 2011 to the lowest level since 1965,” the agency said in a report released this week.
“Although western Kentucky production increased marginally in 2012, eastern Kentucky production decreased by 27.6 per cent.
“During that last three months of 2012, the rate of production in western Kentucky was greater than in eastern Kentucky for the first time since 1960.”
According to the EEC, coal-rich Letcher County totaled 2.97 million tons of coal production last year, a 36% drop year-on-year and a fall of more than 50% since 2009.
Pike, another big coal county in eastern Kentucky, reported 12.9Mt in 2012 which dropped it from the top spot among the state’s highest producing counties.
Western Kentucky seemed to be less impacted and the agency said Union County was able to take over first place on the county list with 13.5Mt, a 9.3Mt jump over the prior year.
Taking third, fourth and fifth places on the EEC’s list were Perry County (9.2Mt, down 30% year-on-year), Hopkins (8.9Mt) and Ohio (7.2Mt, up 30%).
Harlan County, long known as one of the state’s most coal-infused, reported 7Mt of production in 2012, which was down 28% from 2011.
Other placers among Kentucky’s top 10: Webster (5.6Mt), Muhlenberg (4.9Mt), Martin (3.5Mt) and Leslie (3Mt).
State officials said onsite employment at coal mines in eastern Kentucky also fell last year to 9500 jobs from 13,000 in 2011.
Western Kentucky employment was steady.
The EEC cited many causes for the shift, including a switch by utilities toward cheaper natural gas and the increasing cost of producing coal at surface mines.
Another part of the issue was tighter environmental regulations on Appalachian surface mining.