Kentucky coal production decreased by 16 percent to 91.4 million tons in 2012, the lowest level of annual production recorded since 1965. Although Pike County remained the largest coal-producing county in the eastern portion of the state, Union County in Western Kentucky supplanted Pike County as the leading coal producing county in 2012.
Eastern Kentucky has, on average, represented 75 percent of annual coal production in the state over the past 35 years. During 2012, however, the region represented 54 percent of statewide production, according to Kentucky Coal Facts. Underground mine operations accounted for 64 percent of total production; surface mines accounted for the remaining 36 percent.
With 9 percent of national production, Kentucky was the third largest producer of coal in the United States last year. (Wyoming and West Virginia are No. 1 and 2, respectively.) Peak coal production was reached in 1990 when the commonwealth mined 179.4 million tons. Since then, Kentucky coal production has been in decline.
Approximately 9,500 people were directly employed by Eastern Kentucky mines in 2012, while 4,500 were directly employed by coal mines in the western portion of the state.
U.S. coal production in 2012 was just over 1 billion tons, a decrease of 7.1 percent from 2011.