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Coal: Classroom Activities

Coal Resources in the United States


Goal

To understand how coal resources are distributed across the United States.

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Background Information

In the United States, coal is mined from three coal-producing regions: the Appalachian Coal Region, the Interior Coal Region, and the Western Coal Region. The Appalachian Coal Region contains much of the nation's bituminous coal and almost all of its anthracite. Coal is also abundant in the Interior Coal Region, again, mostly bituminous. Coal in the Western Coal Region includes lignite and bituminous. This area includes the Powder River Basin. There is also a lot of coal in Alaska, although it is not yet fully explored. Coal-fueled power plants can be found throughout the United States. However, there are greater numbers of plants near to medium- and high-volatile bituminous coal deposits. The farther a coal-fired power plant is from a coal deposit, the higher the cost of electricity produced by the plant. This is due to higher transportation costs.

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Activity Overview

Students analyze a map that shows the distribution of coal resources and coal-fueled power plants in the United States.

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Materials and Equipment

Coal Resources map - color copies or projected

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Activity

coal resource map
Source: The American Geological Institute, EarthComm: Project-Based Space and Earth System Science, 2nd Edition, Armonk, New York: It's About Time, 2012, pg. 737.

 

  1. Provide copies of the Coal Resources map to students. Alternatively, project the map for the whole class.
  2. Have students examine the map and complete the following:
    1. How many states contain coal deposits? Which states are they?
      Coal deposits that are easy to see on the map are found in 30 states.
    2. What are the main types of coal present in the following regions: east-central, southeast, and west-central?
      east-central region: medium and high volatile bituminous
      southeast region: lignite
      west-central: sub-bituminous or lignite
    3. Can you infer from the map which state has or produces the most coal? Why or why not?
      Answers will vary. The map shows only the surface area of coal deposits and does not indicate the depths or volumes of these deposits.
    4. Measure how far your community is from a source of coal.
      Answers will vary.
    5. What type of coal is closest to your community?
      Answers will vary.
    6. Is there a coal-fired power plant in your state? If so, where is it located?
      Answers will vary.
    7. How far from your community is the closest coal-fired power plant? Where is the plant located?
      Answers will vary.
    8. In what part of the country are the most coal-fired power plants found? Why do you think this is so?
      The most coal-fired power plants can be found in the east-central region. This is also the location of most of the medium and high volatile bituminous deposits.
    9. i) Identify the states that have coal-fired power plants, but do not have any coal deposits.
      NH, MA, NY, CT, NJ, DE, MD, NC, SC, WI, MN, NV, CA, OR, and WA all have coal-fired power plants, but not coal deposits.
    10. How might distance from coal deposits affect the cost of electricity produced by a coal-fired power plant?
      The farther a coal deposit is from a coal-fired power plant, the higher the cost of electricity, mainly due to transportation costs.

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