Improvements in mining methods (e.g. longwall mining), hazardous gas monitoring (such as safety-lamps or more modern electronic gas monitors), gas drainage, electrical equipment, and ventilation have reduced many of the risks of rock falls, explosions, and unhealthy air quality. Gases released during the mining process can be recovered to generate electricity and improve worker safety with gas engines. Another innovation in recent years is the use of closed circuit escape respirators, respirators that contain oxygen for situations where mine ventilation is compromised. Statistical analyses performed by the US Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) show that between 1990 and 2004, the industry cut the rate of injuries by more than half and fatalities by two-thirds. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, even in 2006, mining remained the second most dangerous occupation in America, when measured by fatality rate.[verification needed] However, these numbers include all mining, with oil and gas mining contributing the majority of fatalities; coal mining resulted in only 47 fatalities that year.
The health and environmental impact of the coal industry includes issues such as land use, waste management, water and air pollution, caused by the coal mining, processing and the use of its products. In addition to atmospheric pollution, coal burning produces hundreds of millions of tons of solid waste products annually, including fly ash, bottom ash, and flue-gas desulfurization sludge, that contain mercury, uranium, thorium, arsenic, and other heavy metals. Coal is the largest contributor to the human-made increase of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere.
There are severe health effects caused by burning coal. According to a report by the World Health Organization in 2008, coal particulates pollution are estimated to shorten approximately 10,000 lives annually worldwide. A 2004 study commissioned by environmental groups, but contested by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, concluded that coal burning costs 24,000 lives a year in the United States. More recently, an academic study estimated that the premature deaths from coal related air pollution was about 52,000. When compared to electricity produced from natural gas via hydraulic fracturing, coal electricity is 10–100 times more toxic, largely due to the amount of particulate matter emitted during combustion. When coal is compared to solar photovoltaic generation, the latter could save 51,999 American lives per year if solar were to replace coal-based energy generation in the U.S. Due to the decline of jobs related to coal mining a study found that approximately one American suffers a premature death from coal pollution for every job remaining in coal mining.
Top 10 hard and brown coal producers in 2012 were (in million metric tons): China 3,621, United States 922, India 629, Australia 432, Indonesia 410, Russia 351, South Africa 261, Germany 196, Poland 144, and Kazakhstan 122.
Coal has been mined in every state of Australia, but mainly in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. It is mostly used to generate electricity, and 75% of annual coal production is exported, mostly to eastern Asia.
In 2007, 428 million tonnes of coal was mined in Australia. In 2007, coal provided about 85% of Australia's electricity production. In fiscal year 2008/09, 487 million tonnes of coal was mined, and 261 million tonnes was exported. In fiscal year 2013/14, 430.9 million tonnes of coal was mined, and 375.1 million tonnes was exported. In 2013/14, coal provided about 69% of Australia's electricity production.
In 2013, Australia was the world's fifth-largest coal producer, after China, the United States, India, and Indonesia. However, in terms of proportion of production exported, Australia is the world's second largest coal exporter, as it exports roughly 73% of its coal production. Indonesia exports about 87% of its coal production.
A court in Australia has cited climate change in ruling against a new coal mine.
Canada was ranked as the 15th coal producing country in the world in 2010, with a total production of 67.9 million tonnes. Canada's coal reserves, the 12th largest in the world, are located largely in the province of Alberta.
The first coal mines in North America were located in Joggins and Port Morien, Nova Scotia, mined by French settlers beginning in the late 1600s. The coal was used for the British garrison at Annapolis Royal, and in construction of the Fortress of Louisbourg.
Compared to other South American countries Chile has limited coal resources. Only Argentina is similarly poor. Coal in Chile is mostly sub-bituminous with the exception of the bituminous coals of the Arauco Basin in central Chile.
The China is by far the largest producer of coal in the world, producing over 2.8 billion tons of coal in 2007, or approximately 39.8 percent of all coal produced in the world during that year. For comparison, the second largest producer, the United States, produced more than 1.1 billion tons in 2007. An estimated 5 million people work in China's coal-mining industry. As many as 20,000 miners die in accidents each year. Most Chinese mines are deep underground and do not produce the surface disruption typical of strip mines. Although there is some evidence of reclamation of mined land for use as parks, China does not require extensive reclamation and is creating significant acreages of abandoned mined land, which is unsuitable for agriculture or other human uses, and inhospitable to indigenous wildlife. Chinese underground mines often experience severe surface subsidence (6–12 meters), negatively impacting farmland because it no longer drains well. China uses some subsidence areas for aquaculture ponds but has more than they need for that purpose. Reclamation of subsided ground is a significant problem in China. Because most Chinese coal is for domestic consumption, and is burned with little or no air pollution control equipment, it contributes greatly to visible smoke and severe air pollution in industrial areas using coal for fuel. China's total energy uses 67% from coal mines.
Some of the world's largest coal reserves are located in South America, and an opencast mine at Cerrejón in Colombia is one of the world's largest open pit mines. Output of the mine in 2004 was 24.9 million tons (compared to total global hard coal production of 4,600 million tons). Cerrejón contributed about half of Colombia's coal exports of 52 million tons that year, with Colombia ranked sixth among major coal exporting nations. The company planned to expand production to 32 million tons by 2008. The company has its own 150 km standard-gauge railroad, connecting the mine to its coal-loading terminal at Puerto Bolívar on the Caribbean coast. There are two 120-car unit trains, each carrying 12,000 tons of coal per trip. The round-trip time for each train, including loading and unloading, is about 12 hours. The coal facilities at the port are capable of loading 4,800 tons per hour onto vessels of up to 175,000 tons of dead weight. The mine, railroad and port operate 24 hours per day. Cerrejón directly employs 4,600 workers, with a further 3,800 employed by contractors. The reserves at Cerrejón are low-sulfur, low-ash, bituminous coal. The coal is mostly used for electric power generation, with some also used in steel manufacture. The surface mineable reserves for the current contract are 330 million tons. However, total proven reserves to a depth of 300 metres are 3,000 million tons.
The expansion of the Cerrejón mine has been blamed for the forced displacement of local communities.
Germany has a long history of coal mining, going back to the Middle Ages. Coal mining greatly increased during the industrial revolution and the following decades. The main mining areas were around Aachen, the Ruhr and Saar area, along with many smaller areas in other parts of Germany. These areas grew and were shaped by coal mining and coal processing, and this is still visible even after the end of the coal mining.
Coal mining reached its peak in the first half of the 20th century. After 1950, the coal producers started to struggle financially. In 1975, a subsidy was introduced (Kohlepfennig). In 2007, the Bundestag decided to end subsidies by 2018. As a consequence, RAG AG, the owner of the two remaining coal mines in Germany, announced it would close all mines by 2018, thus ending coal mining in Germany.
Lignite has been mined in Greece since 1873, and today supplies approximately 75% of the country's energy. The main mining area are in Western Macedonia (Ptolemaida) and the Pelopponese (Megalopolis).
Coal mining in India has a long history of commercial exploitation starting in 1774 with John Sumner and Suetonius Grant Heatly of the East India Company in the Raniganj Coalfield along the Western bank of Damodar River. Demand for coal remained low until the introduction of steam locomotives in 1853. After this, production rose to an annual average of 1 Mt and India produced 6.12 Mt per year by 1900 and 18 Mt per year by 1920, following increased demand in the First World War, but went through a slump in the early thirties. The production reached a level of 29 Mt by 1942 and 30 Mt by 1946. After independence, the country embarked upon five-year development plans. At the beginning of the 1st Plan, annual production went up to 33 Mt. During the 1st Plan period, the need for increasing coal production efficiently by systematic and scientific development of the coal industry was being felt. Setting up the National Coal Development Corporation (NCDC), a Government of India undertaking, in 1956 with the collieries owned by the railways as its nucleus was the first major step towards planned development of Indian Coal Industry. Along with the Singareni Collieries Company Ltd. (SCCL) which was already in operation since 1945 and which became a government company under the control of Government of Andhra Pradesh in 1956, India thus had two Government coal companies in the fifties. SCCL is now a joint undertaking of Government of Telangana and Government of India.
The richest Japanese coal deposits have been found on Hokkaido and Kyushu.
Japan has a long history of coal mining dating back into the Japanese Middle Ages. It is said that coal was first discovered in 1469 by a farming couple near Ōmuta, central Kyushu. In 1478, farmers discovered burning stones in the north of the island, which led to the exploitation of the Chikuhõ coalfield.
Following Japanese industrialization additional coalfields were discovered northern Japan. One of the first mines in Hokkaido was the Hokutan Horonai coal mine.
Coal mining in Poland produced 144 million metric tons of coal in 2012, providing 55 percent of that country’s primary energy consumption, and 75 percent of electrical generation. Poland is the second-largest coal-mining country in Europe, after Germany, and the ninth-largest coal producer in the world. The country consumes nearly all the coal it mines, and is no longer a major coal exporter.
Coal mines are concentrated mainly in Upper Silesia. The most profitable mines were Marcel Coal Mine and Zofiówka Coal Mine. In communist times (1945-1989) one of the most important and largest mines was 1 Maja Coal Mine.
Russia ranked as the fifth largest coal producing country in 2010, with a total production of 316.9 Mt. Russia has the world's second largest coal reserves. Russia and Norway share the coal resources of the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, under the Svalbard Treaty.
Spain was ranked as the 30th coal producing country in the world in 2010. The coal miners of Spain were active in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side. In October 1934, in Asturias, union miners and others suffered a fifteen-day siege in Oviedo and Gijon. There is a museum dedicated to coal mining in the region of Catalonia, called Cercs Mine Museum.
In October 2018, the Sánchez government and Spanish Labour unions settled an agreement to close ten Spanish coal mines at the end of 2018. The government pre-engaged to spend 250 million Euro to pay for early retirements, occupational retraining and structural change. In 2018, about 2,3 per cent of the electric energy produced in Spain was produced in coal-burning power plants.
South Africa is one of the ten largest coal producing countries and the fourth largest coal exporting country in the world.
In Taiwan, coal is distributed mainly in the northern area. All of the commercial coal deposits occurred in three Miocene coal-bearing formations, which are the Upper, the Middle and the Lower Coal Measures. The Middle Coal Measures was the most important with its wide distribution, great number of coal beds and extensive potential reserves. Taiwan has coal reserves estimated to be 100–180 Mt. However, coal output had been small, amounting to 6,948 metric tonnes per month from 4 pits before it ceased production effectively in 2000. The abandoned coal mine in Pingxi District, New Taipei has now turned into the Taiwan Coal Mine Museum.
In 2012 coal production in Ukraine amounted to 85.946 million tonnes, up 4.8% from 2011. Coal consumption that same year grew to 61.207 million tonnes, up 6.2% compared with 2011.
More than 90 percent of Ukraine's coal production comes from the Donets Basin. The country's coal industry employs about 500,000 people. Ukrainian coal mines are among the most dangerous in the world, and accidents are common. Furthermore, the country is plagued with extremely dangerous illegal mines.
Coal mining in the United Kingdom dates back to Roman times and occurred in many different parts of the country. Britain's coalfields are associated with Northumberland and Durham, North and South Wales, Yorkshire, the Scottish Central Belt, Lancashire, Cumbria, the East and West Midlands and Kent. After 1970, coal mining quickly collapsed and had practically disappeared by the 21st century. The consumption of coal – mostly for electricity – fell from 157 million tonnes in 1970 to 18 million tonnes in 2016, of which 77% (14 million tonnes) was imported from Colombia, Russia and the United States. Employment in coal mines fell from a peak of 1,191,000 in 1920 to 695,000 in 1956, 247,000 in 1976, 44,000 in 1993, and to 2,000 in 2015.
Almost all onshore coal resources in the UK occur in rocks of the Carboniferous age, some of which extend under the North Sea. Bituminous coal is present in most of Britain's coalfields and is 86% to 88% carbon. In Northern Ireland, there are extensive deposits of lignite which is less energy-dense based on oxidation (combustion) at ordinary combustion temperatures (i.e. for the oxidation of carbon - see fossil fuels).
Coal was mined in America in the early 18th century, and commercial mining started around 1730 in Midlothian, Virginia.
The American share of world coal production remained steady at about 20 percent from 1980 to 2005, at about 1 billion short tons per year. The United States was ranked as the second highest coal producing country in the world in 2010, and possesses the largest coal reserves in the world. In 2008 then-President George W. Bush stated that coal was the most reliable source of electricity. However, in 2011 President Barack Obama said that the US should rely more on cleaner sources of energy that emit lower or no carbon dioxide pollution. For a time, while domestic coal consumption for electric power was being displaced by natural gas, exports were increasing. US net coal exports increased ninefold from 2006 to 2012, peaked at 117 million short tons in 2012, then declined to 63 million tons in 2015. In 2015, 60% of net US exports went to Europe, 27% to Asia.US coal production increasingly comes from strip mines in the western United States, such as from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana.
Coal has come under continued price pressure from natural gas and renewable energy sources, which has resulted in a rapid decline of coal in the U.S. and several notable bankruptcies including Peabody Energy. On 13 April 2016 it reported, that its revenue had reduced by 17 percent as coal prices fell and that it had lost two billion dollars the previous year. It then filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy on 13 April 2016. The Harvard Business Review discussed retraining coal workers for solar photovoltaic employment because of the rapid rise in U.S. solar jobs. A 2016 study indicated that this was technically possible and would account for only 5% of the industrial revenue from a single year to provide coal workers with job security in the energy industry as whole.
Donald Trump pledged to bring back coal jobs during the 2016 US presidential election, and as president he announced plans to reduce environmental protection, particularly by repealing the Clean Power Plan (CPP). However, industry observers have warned that this might not lead to a boom in mining jobs A 2019 projection by the Energy Information Administration estimated that coal production without CPP would decline over coming decades at a faster rate than indicated in the agency's 2017 projection, which had assumed the CPP was in effect.