In 1979, 107 million tons of coal were mined in the Eastern Kentucky coal field; of this total, 50 million tons came from surface-mining operations. Original resources are estimated at about 33.5 billion tons, with remaining coal estimated at approximately 29 billion tons. Recoverable-coal estimates cannot be reported because of lack of reliable data particularly in the area below principal drainage.
Major production comes from Big Sandy, Hazard, and Cumberland River Coal Reserve Districts. These areas are an important source of low-sulfur (1 to 2%), high-volatile A and B coal, often used for blending in coke production; however, the larger part of production supplies the compliance coal market.
Physical and chemical characteristics of the coal and associated rocks vary geographically and stratigraphically, reflecting the controls of sedimentary environments. In general, the following relations have been recognized: high-sulfur conditions in coal and related overburden are associated with rocks having marine or brackish-water affinities; splits are commonly associated with crevasse splays; and bad roof conditions are frequently associated with paleochannels and related slumps.
The eastern Kentucky coal resources program, operated jointly by the Kentucky Geological Survey and the Institute for Mining and Mineral Research, is in its third year, due for completion in 1982. Detailed geologic maps resulting from the recently completed Kentucky cooperative geologic mapping program provide the stratigraphic framework for this project. A more accurate assessment of coal tonnage, a better understanding of coal stratigraphy, and the development of models for determining mineability are the major goals of this project.
The deep mining potential looks promising for the northeast-southwest trending “Appalachian Trough” in southeastern Kentucky. Experiments with longwall mining are presently being conducted in this area.