The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet said 13,109 people worked in the coal industry during the first quarter of this year, the lowest number since state officials began keeping records in 1950.
This was a loss of more than 990 jobs during the quarter, according to the report.
In the past 18 months, onsite employment at Kentucky coal mines has dropped nearly 30%, from 18,804 in September 2011 to 5700 at the end of Q1 2013.
More than 5500 of those layoffs were in the eastern coalfield, according to the state report.
"While these numbers are not surprising, they are concerning,” president of the Kentucky Coal Association Bill Bissett told ILN.
Production declined 28% last year, 26% in the past 18 months, and 52% from the all-time high of 180 million tons in 1990, the report said.
Production at underground mines in Eastern Kentucky rose nearly 2% in the first quarter, but dropped 4.6% at surface mines, so production fell overall. It’s down 42% on 18 months ago, the report said.
Western Kentucky fared better, out producing the larger Eastern Kentucky region during the quarter.
Western Kentucky counties produced 10.4 million tons of coal in the first quarter compared to 10.1 million tons in Eastern Kentucky, a ratio of 51% to 49%.
The Western Union County edged out eastern Pike County as the state’s largest producer, knocking the county from a top spot it as held for decades.
“It is our hope that this decline in production in our Eastern Kentucky coalfield is slowing. While we have seen some growth in our Western coalfield and will likely see more expansion of coal mining in that area, time will tell when and to what degree our portion of the Appalachian Coal Basin recovers,” Bissett said.
The report said that if production continues all year at the first-quarter rate, it would be the lowest since 1963.