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By John L. Moore

Northeast Pennsylvania is sitting atop an immense quantity of anthracite coal, according to the Pennsylvania Anthracite Council.

“Current estimates show 4 to 6 billion tons of reserves of anthracite left in the region,” the Pottsville-based trade group says on its website.

There may not be as many anthracite mines as there were a century ago, but the production of hard coal remains a significant contributor to the economy of both the region and Pennsylvania. The anthracite coal industry contributes “$200 million to $300 million a year to the state’s economy,” according to Duane Feagley, executive director of the Anthracite Council.

During 2015, the most recent year for which there are complete government statistics, 55 surface mines yielded anthracite coal in six Pennsylvania counties: Carbon, Columbia, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Northumberland and Schuylkill. Schuylkill had the most mines of this type: 30. Luzerne had 11, Northumberland had nine. Columbia had three, and Carbon and Lackawanna each had one. These mines employed a total of 651 workers.

Only 10 deep mines reported coal production in the Anthracite Region in 2015. Of these, eight were in Schuylkill County and two were in Northumberland County. The 10 mines employed a total of 61 workers.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, NEPA’s anthracite mines in NEPA produced 8.7 million tons in 2015, up from 6.5 million tons in 2005.

But these figures include not only anthracite coal, but also rock and debris left over from old mine workings. Subtract the weight of the debris and the rocks and these figures become much lower. Indeed, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports 1.95 million tons of anthracite coal from the region for 2015, compared with 1.6 million tons of anthracite in 2005.

At the Anthracite Council, Feagley said, “I don’t go by the raw tonnage, because we’re not selling the rocks.” Instead, he prefers the figures that reflect “prepared tonnage.”

“What’s coming out of the mine is rock coal,” Feagley said. “They separate the rock and the mine workings from the coal. What comes out is the prepared product.”

Most years, the region’s anthracite mines yield between “1.6 and 2 million tons of prepared product,” Feagley said.

According to statistics compiled by the EIA, anthracite production since 2001 has been fluctuating from a low of 1.2 million tons in 2003 to a high of 2.3 million tons in 2012.

In 2015, anthracite coal from surface mines sold for $99.15 per ton, up from $91.79 for the same amount in 2014, according to the Energy Information Administration.

In contrast, anthracite coal from deep mines sold for $58.53 per ton, a decrease from the $70 for the same amount in 2014, the agency said.

Modern anthracite miners are actively retrieving coal that previous miners didn’t get.

Feagley said that present-day anthracite operations involve the re-mining of coal left behind in previously mined areas.

On its website, the council said that “anthracite mining operators are actually cleaning up acid mine drainage and the environment by mining from the surface and day-lighting old abandoned deep mines and closing them off. They then reclaim the landscape by back-filling and re-seeding the affected area, reclaiming it for other uses. They do this as a part of their normal business operations.”

The council quoted the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as saying in 2008 that the Anthracite mining industry had reclaimed 162 acres of abandoned mine land. At an estimated cost of $10,000 per acre, active mining operations provided $1.6 million in environmental reclamation.

Anthracite Facts

• Anthracite, commonly known as hard coal, has been commercially mined and prepared in the Northeast Region of Pennsylvania for more than 150 years.

• Most anthracite reserves are found in the five counties of Schuylkill, Carbon, Northumberland, Lackawanna and Luzerne counties.

• The anthracite coal fields extend 50 miles east and west and 100 miles north and south covering approximately 484 square miles.

Source: The Pennsylvania Anthracite Council

• Anthracite contains 86 percent to 97 percent carbon, and generally has the highest heating value of all ranks of coal.

• Anthracite accounted for less than 1 percent of the coal mined in the United States in 2014.

• All of the anthracite mines in the United States are located in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

• Anthracite is mainly used by the metals industry.

Source: The U.S. Energy Information Administration

• 1917 was the peak year for anthracite production in Pennsylvania, with more than 100 million tons produced by 156,148 mine workers.

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection