CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming coal production has fallen dramatically as the coronavirus exacerbates a long-term trend of diminishing demand for the fossil fuel to generate electricity.
Wyoming's 16 coal mines produced 34% less coal in April, May and June compared with the same period in 2019, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration preliminary data.
As it is, coal production in the U.S. including Wyoming's Powder River Basin, the nation's top coal-producing region, has fallen steadily for over a decade because of competition from renewable energy and inexpensive natural gas.
Last year, wind farms, solar power and other renewables surpassed coal's share of U.S. power generation for the first time since the 19th century.
Powder River Basin coal production in 2019 fell to 267 million tons (242 metric tons), down from 400 million tons (363 metric tons) in 2008 for the lowest volumes since 1975, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.
The coronavirus has further sapped demand for coal. More people working from home and public health orders closing bars, restaurants, movie theaters and other public places have meant less electricity use, prompting utilities to order less coal to burn.
Coal mining companies across Wyoming have laid off or furloughed over 500 employees since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S. in March.
The coal industry's troubles have far-reaching effects. The coal-shipping business has been hard hit, with BNSF Railway laying off 130 workers earlier this year.
An estimated 1 in 10 jobs in the Powder River Basin depend on coal.