US Coal Production, Consumption, Exports & Imports in 2023: Consumption Plunges to Lowest since 1963. But Exports Rise

Use of coal in power generation fades. Cheap US natural gas has been hard to beat for 15 years.

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

Coal consumption in the US plunged another 17.4% in 2023 from the prior year, to 426 million short tons, the lowest since 1963 (red line in the chart), according to data from the Energy Department’s EIA today. Coal consumption by tonnage peaked in 2007. But by energy content, coal consumption peaked in 2005 at 22.79 quadrillion Btu.

Of the total, 388 MMst were consumed by coal-fired power plants for electricity generation, down by 18.1% from the prior year, and the lowest since 1972 (blue).

Other industrial users consumed 22.2 MMst, the lowest in the data going back to 1950. Coke plants consumed 15.8 MMst, also the lowest in the data going back to 1950. Coal was once the dominant transportation fuel, and by the 1960s, that had vanished. Coal was also once an important residential and industrial heating fuel, and that has now largely vanished.

In terms of power generation, coal’s share in 2023 dropped to another record low to 15.9%, down from 51% in 2001 (black line in the chart below), according to earlier data from the EIA. The decline of coal in power generation was triggered by several events:

  • In the 1990s, the arrival of the combined-cycle natural gas turbine, a technical innovation which vastly increased the efficiency of natural gas plants.
  • In 2009, surging natural gas production from fracking caused the price of natural gas to collapse, and even today, natural gas costs just a fraction of what it cost 20 years ago.
  • Cheap natural gas made these highly efficient combined cycle natural gas power plants more profitable to operate than coal plants, and no new coal plants were built, and the old ones have been getting retired in large numbers.
  • Fracking has made the US the largest natural gas producer in the world in 2011, and in 2023, the largest LNG exporter in the world.
  • In recent years, even wind and solar have become more cost efficient than coal plants. The “fuel” is free, and all methods of power generation require costly plants and equipment.

Coal production in the US has plunged by 47% since 2011 to 577 MMst in 2023, but has stabilized in recent years. Production was down 2.8% from a year ago, but the same as in 2021, and up from 2020. All of them were the lowest since the early 1970s.

Coal produced in the US is mostly bituminous and subbituminous, each with a share of about 46% of total production. Lignite amounts to 8% of total coal production, and anthracite to less than 1%.

A lively export business has been helping to stabilize production in recent years. The chart shows annual production in surface mines (red) and underground mines (black):

Coal Exports and Imports show a widening trade surplus. Coal imports (blue in the chart below) dropped to 4 MMst, the lowest since the 1990s.

Coal exports (red) rose to 99.8 MMst. Of those exports, 51.3 MMst were metallurgical coal and 48.5 MMst were steam coal. Exports in 2012 of 126 MMst had been the highest in the data going back to 1950.

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  61 comments for “US Coal Production, Consumption, Exports & Imports in 2023: Consumption Plunges to Lowest since 1963. But Exports Rise

  1. Redundant says:

    A ridiculous and unwelcome evolution in the decline of coal:

    “Meta, formerly Facebook, itself heavily invested in AI, is building one such data center in Kansas City. Perhaps not coincidentally, the energy company that services the area, Evergy, announced in June that it was delaying the retirement of a coal plant by five years to 2028, according to Bloomberg.
    Elsewhere, in an area of Northern Virginia aptly known as “data center alley,” local provider Dominion Energy was forced to temporarily pause new data center connections in 2022. It reportedly warned the data center company Digital Realty of a possible “pinch point” that could prevent new projects until 2026. A Dominion representative, however, told Bloomberg that this was inaccurate and that the pause only lasted a few months. “

    Meanwhile, the reality of dumb-AI is becoming more exposed as the fraudulent hype it is:

    “In a presentation earlier this month, the venture-capital firm Sequoia estimated that the AI industry spent $50 billion on the Nvidia chips used to train advanced AI models last year, but brought in only $3 billion in revenue.”

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Electricity generation has been stagnant in the US since 2007. Power generators are in a no-growth industry and they got used to it. Higher power consumption is heaven for them, in theory, but a data center is a huge power user in just one specific spot that pops up very quickly, and it uses that power during peak times as well. But planning and building power plants takes time. So short-term there is going to be some juggling going on in some specific locations.

      And that incident that you make such a big deal out of, won’t even be a blip. You’re talking about delayed retirement of an old, relatively small plant. That plant is expensive to operate, so it will be operated only during periods of very high demand, and the rest of the time, cheaper power generators take over. In other words, your big deal will have very little impact on coal consumption – which was the topic here.

      • MM says:


        Any thoughts as to whether (or not) the AI boom will cause a big jump in power consumption?

        I’ve read that AI algorithms draw a lot of power due to their computational complexity… is this extra power draw significant or just a drop in the bucket?

        • jc says:

          These discussions seem to be lacking in acknowledging increases in semiconductor efficiency. thanks to cell phones pushing the envelope they are down to 7-5nm.

    • dang says:

      I agree in principal that the unauthorized collection and storage of all the personal data on every human being should not be authorized to increase the carbon dioxide, as well as trace elements and compound load, into our shared atmosphere.

      The climate science suggests that the most cogent approach to reducing our carbon footprint is to eliminate wasteful use of energy.

      • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

        dang – but someone, somewhere, is doubtlessly eyeing that data through a PRC-like lens of, whaddathey call it?-oh, yeah, something like ‘social-value score’ (process that with some misfiring-or not- ‘AI’, and what might transpire?)…

        may we all find a better day.

        • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

          dang – see you referenced this farther down the thread. Best-

          may we all find a better day.

  2. Debt-Free-Bubba says:

    Howdy Folks. Will China and India follow US?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      They don’t have cheap natural gas. They have to import natural gas. And some of it is expensive LNG from the US 🤣

      • W K Foster says:

        Wolf, do you see power consumption increasing as all the chip plants, data centers are built and other industrial plants move back to the us. Are the utility companies ready for it, it seems all the easy savings have been made from LED lighting and easy energy efficiency measures.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Add to power consumption: new data centers, EVs, new manufacturing plants, such as chip plants (very slow, takes years to get a factory up and running), crypto mining, AI, population growth… so eventually we should see some sustained growth in electricity generation.

          But making everything more efficient has worked against growth in electricity generation over the years (LED lights, more efficient equipment and appliances, etc.).

      • Debt-Free-Bubba says:

        Howdy Lone Wolf and thanks. Do they still use coal to heat residential still???? Not sure about that though. A US mining equipement engineer while working in China, told me they would sweep up coal dust left on the road from coal trucks and heat their homes…..

        • Wolf Richter says:

          China has changed a lot since then, LOL. People live in modern high-rises now, and they have electric HVAC.

          When I was a kid, we heated with coal. We had a big cast-iron boiler in the kitchen with hot-water radiators in every room. In the morning, we made a fire in the boiler (newspaper on the bottom, wood in the middle, coal on top), which was kind of fun, and then an hour later the rooms were getting warm. We lived on the third floor, and our coal (which be bought once a year) was stored in our portion of the basement (a bunker actually), and so once every few days, we little kids had to go down, fill the coal carriers with coal, and carry them up. Those darn things were pretty heavy, and filthy, with coal-dust everywhere. Life was just so easy and perfect back in the 50s and early 60s, the spoiled rotten boomer generation, LOL.

        • Debt-Free-Bubba says:

          Howdy Lone Wolf and Thanks. HEE HEE But I had to walk up hill both ways to school.

        • roddy6667 says:

          I live in China. In the northern half of the country, heat is provided in urban areas by huge coal-fired community heating plants. Most people who live in rural areas that are not served by these public utilities still heat with coal, not the electric heat pumps. They are too expensive. China and India just set records for annual coal consumption, and worldwide, coal production was at an all time high last year. It’s not going away soon. Gas is cheap in some parts of the world, but not most.

      • Mark S says:

        Thanks Wolf.
        Natural gas extraction is rising steeply. Do you think there should be concern about rapid exhaustion of the resource? The UK has pretty much run through its North Sea gas endowment in 40+ years, and LNG exports did not contribute to that decline, but is significant for US and increasing. Could America be heading back to coal in 10 to 20 years?

        • Glen says:

          If the US was to continue at current usage we would have about 80 years of dry natural gas. There is also wet natural gas in smaller amounts but what we use on our homes is dry. Dry essentially means high in methane.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          There is hydrocarbon-rich shale in the US all over the place, much of it untapped, such as the Monterey shale in California, which exemplifies the issue in the future: it’s not that we’ll run out; it’s that extracting the hydrocarbons may get more difficult and more expensive. The Monterey shale was put on the backburner after it was determined that, with the fracking technology at the time (10 years ago), it could not be tackled. So it’ll sit there unused until the tech catches up. The fracking technology has massively improved over the years, and it has become much more efficient. I’m more worried about running out of clean air to breathe and useable land to farm and graze cattle on, than about running out of hydrocarbons.

        • Home toad says:

          ~∆~ I’m from a distant planet, I’ve come for your coal.

          Most people in the US have never seen a piece of coal with their own eyes, wouldn’t know how to burn it or how damn dirty it is.

        • ru82 says:

          Nat Gas sells for $10 equivalent to a barrel of oil.

          That is how cheap nat gas is right now. We are very lucky for Fracking. Otherwise Nat gas would probably be about 6 to 8 instead of $1.8

    • Glen says:

      They are also the largest importers of coal from the US. Wyoming, West Virginia, etc. will continue as long as it is profitable.

      • Debt-Free-Bubba says:

        Howdy Glen. This Engineer Neighbor I had, manufactured coal mining equipment all over China and Asia. Said the areas where the coal was produced, entire villages would glow at night using coal for just about anything. Not sure how many countries use coal other than for energy producing. There is a large indian ( native American ) tribe smoking out the Arizona Country side using coal to produce electricity. Lone Wolf just got me wondering if we are the only ones doing what we do………

      • BS ini says:

        What about the possibility of a ban on coal exports by Fed Gov . Permits are on the back burner for LNG plant permits at least that’s what I read in headlines. Given the comment from Wolf about clean air and land resources we need LNG fast tract permits and possibly a LNG act similar to the Chips Act with fast track permits for pipelines and drilling .

        • Moosy says:

          Why not a ban on toxic batteries and toxic solar panels and bird killing windmills that also make whales deadly dizzy?

          Why not on a ban on importing all the stuff that is created in China with energy of which more than 50% comes from coal burning, most of it in a dirty way without scrubbers?

          Why not a ban on the latte you are drinking since the beans come from a far away place that probably is imperialistic and whatever gobbligook words they dropped in your head while you were in college.

          You sound like one of those that thinks they can help the polar bear by holding their breath.

          Yes. I am 100% sarcastic

          My threshold for people writing things that sound great while talking it over during lunch and over an arugula salad, but forget to think it through what the consequences are , that threshold is pretty low.

        • robert says:

          Nuclear is back; first restarting of a plant in Michigan after the years of silliness in the US and Europe.
          No worries.

  3. dang says:

    As a prelude to my economic opinion, I speculate that the materials industry is like the course of the brackets of the March Madness, which I might add, can be credibly described as a metaphor of the mystery of ….

  4. Jonno says:

    “old once” should be “old ones”.

    • dang says:

      “Old ones” has recently become a familiar self thought each morning that I get up and get dressed in front of the mirror array that, 25 years ago, reflected my best image. Oh, the obvious decline is not only physical but also mental in which the idea of why should I give a shit what my children, who are in charge are doing, I’ll be dead.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      You can get old only once?


      • dang says:

        No, thank you Wolf for providing the factually based opportunity to inflect on the effect of the data,

  5. Pancho says:

    New data centers are coming online that can consume the entire output of a 1,000 MW nuclear plant.

    The Susquehanna nuclear plant just sold a data center campus it developed, behind the meter, to Amazon. Amazon will start small, but can scale up to 960 MW, almost half the plant’s total output.

    I expect we’ll see more deals like this over time. Data centers like the reliability and uptime of the nuclear plants (100%, even in the middle of the night–just like data centers). Nuclear plants like the guaranteed customers.

    Vogtle Units 3 and 4 will represent 2,000 MW+ once unit 4 hits the grid in a month or two. CBRE estimates 2,000 MW of new data center builds are in progress in the Atlanta market.

    That 2 GW of electricity will be almost entirely spoken for as soon as it hits the grid.

    • dang says:

      I personally find the idea of a data center per se illegal. Which Constitution of the United States of America allows the corporate accumulation of citizen data without and more importantly the no brainer the opt out.

      We have too remember that we are in a period of a radical change from the failure of an monetary economic consensus that concentrated wealth that relies on the vulnerability that the data center monster that never forgets an offense , seems like extortion. If not the letter than the intent of the founders. The Constitution clearly rejects the monster that is paying the piper as the least deserving entity on earth.

      Their thirst for personal data is not benign.

    • BigAl says:

      “New data centers are coming online that can consume the entire output of a 1,000 MW nuclear plant.”

      Just wait until you read about what the electricity demand predictions are for Bitcoin mining. You’ll need smelling salts.

      Remember the plot from “Batman Returns” (1992)?

  6. Glen says:

    Will be interesting how climate change in the form of droughts and reduced hydropower or at least inconsistent generation impacts the picture. It isn’t significant in US, something like 6%, but most states have some form of it. China however is ramping up coal plants partly in reaction to recent droughts and of course other reasons as they are more dependent on hydropower than US.

    • BigAl says:

      Droughts have a profound impact on Nuclear Power generation, also. France was forced to take about half of their Nuclear Power plants offline in the Summer of 2022 due to drought conditions.

      In fact, even a heat wave that raises the temperature of a NP’s water source by 1 degree C can impact efficiency in a meaningful way.

      I’m pro-Nuclear – but it would be irresponsible not to mention those complications.

  7. dang says:

    Coal, Anthracite, with an energy content sufficient to reduce iron oxide to elemental iron.

    An indescript carbon mineral, made of carbon, and assigned a grade.

    The vast sub bituminous deposits in Wyoming, although called coal do not have a high enough potential energy capable of reducing iron oxide to elemental iron and carbon dioxide.

    There is a normal distribution of the quality of the naturally occurring coal when measured by only one metric like power production which belongs to the sub bituminous, soft coal with a sodium/calcium ratio to prevent precipitation of slag on the furnace exhaust system.

  8. Redundant says:

    This coal story definitely opens a can of fascinating worms:

    “ IEA forecasts that data centers’ total electricity consumption could reach more than 1,000 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2026.

    “This demand is roughly equivalent to the electricity consumption of Japan,” said the report. “Updated regulations and technological improvements, including on efficiency, will be crucial to moderate the surge in energy consumption from data centers.””

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Without context, this quotation is manipulative BS. This is not in the US, but GLOBALLY.

      You manipulatively cut of the first phrase: “After globally consuming an estimated 460 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2022, data centres’ total electricity consumption could reach more than 1 000 TWh in 2026. This demand is roughly equivalent to the electricity consumption of Japan.”

      • BS ini says:

        That was my guess (global) thanks for the clarification your focus on energy production generation and trends is my favorite topic that you write about . You have mentioned the benefits to the USA economy as a result of our growth in exporting refined oil products and NG . Keep up the great insights.

  9. dang says:

    I know I’m hogging the diatribe because the future is not clear. Which 80 year old will be anointed in the symbolic vote to be held in November.

    Perhaps the old saw that ” progress is made one funeral at a time”.

    As long as the death is as a natural consequence of being born.

  10. WB says:


    Great data. Do you have any insight on demand for uranium? I don’t see how the US (or the world for that matter) moves forward with all these economic plans without nuclear energy. Not to mention demand for other medically important isotopes.

    • John H. says:


      This quote from Holtek CEO (As printed in Doomberg 4/2/24 article The Last Pallisades) show a growing shift toward nuclear redevelopment in U.S:
      “Siting the first two SMR-300 units at Palisades eliminates the delays associated with erecting the plant at an undeveloped property and confers the many benefits of synergy that accrue from the presence of a co-located operating plant – including shared infrastructure and operational expertise, enhancements to grid stability, and resource optimization,”Holtec CEO Kris Singh said. “By building at our own site with our own credit and our own at-risk funds, we hope to deliver the dual-unit SMR-300 plant within schedule and budget,” he added.”

      The Doomberg article points out the obvious roadblocks related to historical opposition to nuclear power production, but concludes on the optimistic note that eventually physics will prevail over [environmental] platitudes.

      Your expectation of a profitable environment for the uranium industry seems more realistic now than it appeared a few years ago.

      • Wolf Richter says:

        Nuclear power is THE most expensive form of power generation, and it is THE most subsidized form of power generation, to where a private entity using private funds cannot do it, but it must involve government funding, government loan guarantees, or outright government ownership. Nuclear reactors have melted down too many times — of the 500 or so commercial nuclear reactors used for power generation, a shocking percentage has melted down, including those at the Fukushima plant, not far from where my in-laws live.

        Nuclear power is neither clean (see Chernobyl, Fukushima, etc.), nor cheap (see how many billions it cost to build a plant), nor save (Fukushima, etc.). Nuclear is the most expensive and dangerous way to generate electricity.

        AND WE STILL DON’T HAVE ANY GOOD WAY OF DEALING WITH THE NUCLEAR WASTE that future taxpayers and rate payers will have to deal with and pay for.

        The nuclear power industry has lied to me my entire life, and I cannot believe that there are now a bunch of people out there that are starting to believe the bullshit and lies from the nuclear power industry all over again.

        • John H. says:

          Thank you for the firm leash pull, Wolf. I read the doomberg article and it made some sense to me, but I am not well informed on nuclear energy subsidization. I knew when I saw the capital letters that I’d set off your well-honed and over-exercised bullsh$t sensors.

          An article on the extent of federal and state subsidization and regulatory control — across the entire energy landscape — would be interesting to me, and perhaps to other less-than-fully-informed Wolfstreet readers.


        • MM says:

          Wolf, can you do a full article detailing your case against nuclear?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Nah, the one paragraph said it all. If you want to know more, read about Fukushima, read about the cost of the newest just opened US nuclear power plant, Georgia’s Vogtle plant. Read about how the US is dealing with nuclear waste (it’s not, the fuel rods just sit in big swimming pools for the next 100,000 years, LOL). Read about how much it costs and how long it takes to decommission a nuclear plant, and future rate payers and taxpayers are on the hook for that. Lots of people got rich of nuclear power, and they took a lot of money away from future generations. Everyone who promotes nuclear power lies when they open their mouth.

        • John H. says:


          Points taken. This comment sets my mind wandering back to money/banking (where this site usually resides) –

          “Lots of people got rich [off] nuclear power, and they took a lot of money away from future generations. Everyone who promotes nuclear power lies when they open their mouth.”

          Substitute “Federal Reserve System” for “nuclear power system,” and that pretty well sums up my frustration with government subsidized monetary stabilization policies.

          You mentioned in your interview with Nick Hilario that there are older commenters who are angry about how banking has evolved over their lifetimes. I’m one.

          Subsidization of interest rates is irritant #1 for me.

          #2 – enabling federal deficits and endless growth of debt.

          #3 – government selecting winners and losers.

          #4 – self-enrichment at the expense of all consumers (including the revolving door between agency/academia/banking industry).

          Are there some “unintended outcome” parallels between your disgust with nuclear power industry, and mine with the centrally-controlled money and banking system?

          Sincere thanks for your perspectives and efforts.

        • SolomonDreamed says:

          Besides the near term costs / risks that are not internalized, your point about the waste: the cost of nuclear power is basically infinite per kWhr

  11. Leon says:

    With the retail Anthracite coal market becoming
    extremely expensive I look forward to bringing
    Subituminous Coal from Montana at $11.00 per
    ton to heat my home when the time comes.

    • old ghost says:

      Leon you must be kidding? Or too young to have ever used coal to heat your home.

      As a small child, I remember the coal furnace taking up a lot of space in the basement. The furnace had pipes rising up from it, and I remember thinking it looked like a sinister octopus grabbing the ceiling.

      I remember dad every night having to load up the furnace with coal, and even when the fire was “banked” at night the house was still cold in the morning. On cold days it also had to be stoked during the day.

      Then there were the clinkers. The parts of coal that did not burn. They had to be taken out from time to time and spread on the driveway. We did not have a paved driveway, and the smaller clinkers were used as a gravel substitute.

      Coal deliveries were always interesting. A dump truck backed up to the outside coal chute, and it was poured into a coal bin in the basement. My mother hated those days because the coal dust always managed to float up through the heating registers, and then she had extra house cleaning to do.

      I don’t miss heating with coal at all. Heating a house with coal is a lot of work.

      • MM says:

        This doesn’t sound too different than heating one’s home with wood pellets in a pellet stove – something I do during extra cold winter nights.

        Well, except that coal is much dirtier, and I carry the bags of pellets down to the basement by hand…

        • old ghost says:

          Call me spoiled. I like turning a dial to adjust the gas heat. And I don’t have easy access here to wood pellets.

  12. Barnett C Eison says:

    I take exception to your statement regarding renewable cost being cheaper than coal. The wind and solar industry have been subsidized by the government to the point of being ridiculous while at the same time coal has been hit with costly regulations non-stop since Obama. Plus billions have been wasted due to premature closing of perfectly good coal power plants. The lefts so-called “ green” projects is more about controlling folks and enriching the donor class than anything else. I never hear Biden trash China like he does our domestic coal industry. We can go to zero emissions and unless China and India changes there ways all we are doing is increasing our energy cost while’s China continues to pass the US in every way. Wind and solar are old inefficient technologies. The billions spent on these expensive projects could be put to better use with a Herculean effort toward nuclear fusion.

    • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

      BCE – ‘Herculean Effort’? Please. Check the amount of taxpayer ‘subsidization’ of USG fusion research at Lawrence Livermore labs since the ‘sixties. Of my several brilliant friends in high school (I was not among them, obviously), one went on to spend his entire career there, working on both laser, and magnetic containment. When first there, he said a working fusion prototype ‘appeared to be about 30 years away’. As we would meet over the decades since then, ’30 years away’ became almost a running joke, and still the benchmark, with subsidization and effort in its r&d still ongoing when he retired-after 30 years. Scientific ‘discovery’ (and implementation) stubbornly-resists political labels (look up ‘Lysenko’), or the human belief it can be dictated…as for coal? It ran with a blank check for its environmental/social impacts for many, many decades. TANSTAAFL on costs/benefits, always, and for anything, no matter how much money it may make someone at a particular point in time…

      may we all find a better day.

  13. BigAl says:


    It’s going to be really interesting to see what those Coal Exports do in 2024 and beyond – because I know for a fact that the lion’s share of exported coal from Appalachia is shipped out of the port of Baltimore.

  14. Stephen Waters says:

    Wolf – another really well done report! If the administration was seriously concerned that the use of fossil fuels is causing climate change – they should have stopped the export of US coal. Or at a minimum, they should levy a heavy carbon tax on US exported coal.

    • SpencerG says:

      What they are serious about is winning elections. I can absolutely PROMISE you there are political operatives in the administration who have a pretty good idea how many votes Hillary Clinton lost in the Midwest by coming out so strongly against “King Coal” in 2016. It is one thing for coal to get beat in the marketplace by cheap natural gas… it is another thing altogether to watch politicians cost you your job because they put their thumbs on the scale.

      • tom says:

        I live in the midwest. Our coal plant scheduled to be closed, has been extended. This with a liberal governor.
        We are still a blue collar region. Factories do not run on the hope that the wind blows, or its a cloudless sky. They rely on a baseload.

        Improve our grid? Build nuclear? How about dam it up and do hydro?
        I will be long gone before they are permitted, built, and put in production. It took years to get a new transmission line route.

        How many coal, lng, nuclear, hydro projects in China & India last year? How many in the US?
        What president shrugged and basically said…those jobs are not coming back?

  15. SpencerG says:

    Wow! There is export market for coal? Hard to imagine that. It would seem a tad bit heavy to be transporting too far.

    • Paul says:

      Global seaborne market abt. 1.5 Billion tonnes per annum…that’s heavy.

  16. SolomonDreamed says:

    Besides the near term costs / risks that are not internalized, your point about the waste: the cost of nuclear power is basically infinite per kWhr

Comments are closed.