West Virginia State Rock
Coal is a brittle, combustible, black or dark brown sedimentary rock formed from decomposed plant matter. It is composed primarily of carbon, with traces of sulfur, hydrogen, and nitrogen. Coal is grouped into four ranks according to its carbon content. Anthracite, the highest rank, is over 95 percent carbon and has been partially metamorphosed. In descending rank, the other coals are bituminous (at least 90 percent carbon), sub-bituminous (at least 85 percent), and lignite, which grades into peat.
A STATE SYMBOL
West Virginia designated coal as its official state stone in 2009, honoring the significance of coal in the state’s economy, history, and geology. Coal was found in present-day Boone County in colonial times, in 1742, by the German explorer John Peter Salley. Early white settlers made use of local coal to fuel blacksmithing forges and to heat their homes.
Beginning in the 1830s, as the Industrial Revolution provided more and more uses for coal and railways expanded to provide transportation, large-scale coal mining began in earnest. By the 1880s, major mining operations opened in the counties of Mineral, Monongalia, Marion, Fayette, Harrison, Ohio, Putnam, and Mason.
The economic and cultural history of coal mining in West Virginia is complex. During the Industrial Revolution, mine owners built vast fortunes. However, poor conditions in the mines and mining communities led to much strife, including the infamous massacre of union organizers in Matewan.
State and eventually federal legislation was put in place to curb abuses in mining and other industries. While coal mining remains an inherently hazardous industry, annual fatalities today are one or two percent of the average a century ago, and miners earn about $72,000 annually, almost double the national median salary. West Virginia’s coal industry currently contributes $3.5 billion to the gross state product and employs 30,000 workers, about two percent of the state’s population.
Coal formation began about 350 million years ago in the Carboniferous Period, a time of mild climate and prevalent swamplands. Throughout millions of years, swamp plants that died built up in layers of peat, which was initially about 90 percent water. Aerobic decay in the upper layers of the swamp began the decomposition process, reducing the volume of the organic matter.
Beneath these upper layers, where oxygen did not penetrate, anaerobic bacteria further broke down the plant remains. These bacteria gave off acids, which, at still deeper levels, became too concentrated for bacteria to live. The acidic, anaerobic plant matter had by this time been transformed into a black gel known as gytta, and it no longer underwent decomposition.
The next step in the development of coal was bituminization, which occurred over millions of years as a sedimentary blanket thousands of feet thick buried the ancient swamps, trapping heat rising from deep in the earth. The high temperatures caused the water content to be cooked out of the peat until it formed lignite. If the process continued long enough, the water and organic matter in the peat continued to be forced out, creating purer coal.
Fifty-three of West Virginia’s 55 counties have coal reserves. Twenty-five counties currently produce coal. Worldwide, recoverable coal exists in about 70 countries, with by far the largest proven reserves in the U.S, Russia, China, and India.
Coal has been used for centuries as a direct source of heat by burning it in coal stoves and furnaces. In modern times, the greatest demand for coal is industrial. Electricity generation from "steam coal" is the most significant of these uses; worldwide, 41.5 percent of electricity is produced in coal-fired power plants.
Coal has other uses besides generating energy. The manufacture of steel requires carbon, most often obtained from metallurgical (hard) coal. Thirteen percent of the world’s hard coal is used to make steel. A surprising array of products is made using coal or its by-products: paper, creosote, benzene, ammonia, pharmaceuticals, fibers (rayon, nylon), dyes, and solvents.
West Virginia produced 157 million tons of coal from 57 coal seams in 2008. In the same year, total U.S. production was 1.2 billion tons, while the world total was 6.8 billion tons.
Chemical Formula: C
|Author: World Trade Press|