The new EIA report forecasts an "accelerated decline" in Central Appalachian coal production, with annual output dropping from 148 million tons in 2012 to 80 million tons in 2040. Northern Appalachian production, meanwhile, is forecast to increase from 126 million tons to 151 million tons over the same period.
"The combination of slow growth in electricity demand, competitively priced natural gas, programs encouraging renewable fuel use, and the implementation of environmental rules dampens future coal use," the EIA said.
EIA analysts forecast that coal-fired generation will flatten out after 2020, as older and less efficient power plants are retired and fewer new coal plants are built.
The EIA said that market concerns about greenhouse gas emission "continue to dampen the expansion of coal-fired capacity," but that its forecast is based on current laws and policies, which do not require curbs on global warming pollution.
Meanwhile, natural gas production has been booming, as driller tap into huge shale-gas resources like the Marcellus in West Virginia. They're using advanced technologies, including hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, to reach gas reservoirs that they previously couldn't.
The new EIA report said that, "Ongoing improvements in advanced technologies for crude oil and natural gas production continue to lift domestic supply and reshape the U.S. energy economy."
The EIA projected that natural gas production would continue to grow steadily, with a 56 percent increase between 2012 and 2040, when output reaches 37.6 trillion cubic feet.
The forecast for cumulative production of "dry" natural gas is about 11 percent higher than last year's EIA projections, primarily reflecting continued growth in shale-gas production. Another contributing factor, the EIA said, is ongoing drilling in shale and other plays with high concentrations of natural gas liquids -- such as ethane, propane and butane -- which in energy-equivalent terms have a higher value than dry natural gas.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.