"Today, we are holding our own, running pretty much even with what we did last year. There is more production up north and a little bit less in the south," Raney said.
Coal-burning power plants have also upgraded their environmental technologies.
"Today, many of those plants can take higher levels of sulfur out of coal than they could 15 or 20 years ago," Raney said.
"But there is not much of a domestic market for 'met' coal. We still sell some here, but not nearly what we used to.
"Today, you also have steel companies from Europe that have bought mines and coal properties here so they will have a supply of metallurgical coal. We have the best in the world."
In West Virginia, Boone County remains the top coal county.
In 2011, Boone County ranked first in the number of miners employed -- 3,894; the amount of coal mined -- 20.9 million tons; and the most remaining coal reserves -- 3.6 billion tons.
Marshall County was the second-largest producer in 2011, mining 17.1 million tons. The other top counties were: Logan, Marion, Monongalia, Kanawha, Raleigh, Wyoming and McDowell.
The underground McElroy Mine, located just south of Wheeling, continued to be the state's largest mine. Owned by CONSOL Energy Inc., the McElroy Mine employed 991 miners who produced more than 9.3 million tons of coal in 2011.
Mechanization and surface mining have combined to increase productivity dramatically during the past 65 years.
In 1947, it took 116,421 miners to produce 173.7 million tons of coal. In 2001, just 15,729 miners produced 175.1 million tons of coal.
Coal severance taxes also help counties where mines operate.
In 2011, 29 coal-producing counties received $40.1 million in severance taxes for their local use.
The average annual wage for a West Virginia coal miner is more than $68,500, according to "Coal Facts 2012," an annual publication of the West Virginia Coal Association.
That annual wage was "more than twice the amount of the statewide average for all workers," according to "Coal Facts."
Also during the past 40 years, the percentage of coal mined by union miners has fallen dramatically.
When the West Virginia's historic Black Lung Strike took place back in 1969, well over 90 percent of all Mountain State miners belonged to the United Mine Workers of America.
In 2011, according to the EIA, union miners produced 32.3 percent of all West Virginia coal. Nationally, union miners produced only 16.4 percent of all coal, down from 19.6 percent the year before.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.