Conflicting public fears surrounding nuclear disaster and environmental destruction will fight it out to decide the fate of the coal mining industry in North America, according to a new report by industry intelligence experts at GBI Research.
The report shows that coal consumption in the region is anticipated to remain strong in the future despite campaigns and government legislation that seek to lower fossil fuel usage and carbon footprints.
North America is one of the largest coal-producing regions in the world. The major coal-producing mines in the region are all in the United States, within the Appalachian coal region, the Interior coal region and the Western coal region, which includes the Powder River Basin. Canada also has a significant number of smaller coal-producing mines in the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.
Power generation accounted for some 90 percent of total consumption in North America during 2011, highlighting the importance of coal in the region. The recent Fukushima disaster saw nuclear energy threatened in the wake of a tsunami on the Japanese coast, and nations around the world have altered their perceptions on power sources accordingly. Many have become wary of nuclear energy, with countries such as Germany abandoning this method of power generation entirely, all the while creating support for coal power generation.
Nonetheless, the opposition against greenhouse gas emissions from end-use industries cannot be overlooked. Fossil fuels are widely lauded as environmentally damaging, and various government plans to reduce national carbon footprints may directly oppose the use of coal as a method of generating power.
North America produced some 1,027 million metric tons (MMt) during 2011, accounting for some 14.1 percent of total global coal production. During the same year, power generation accounted for 910.3 MMt, or 93 percent of total coal consumption in North America.
Coal-fired power plants within and outside the region will drive demand during the next decade. The consumption of coal in North America is expected to grow to 940.4 MMt during the next eight years, largely the result of increased demand from several planned and upcoming U.S. coal-fired power plants due for completion by 2015, which will bring in a combined capacity addition of 11.5 gigawatts (GW).