•  Coal mining at Carthage, New Mexico, and in New Mexico

Coal production has played a significant role in the economic development of New Mexico beginning in the 1850's and continuing to the present.

One of the first documented mines began operating in 1861 Carthage by the U. S. Army, supplying coal to Fort Craig. With the westward expansion and arrival of the railroads in the 1880's many small coal areas, such as Monero and Madrid, were developed. The mines in these areas supplied coal for the steam engine locomotives and coal and coke to the smelters in the Southwest.

Yearly production first exceeded 1 million short tons (st) in 1889. This first upward cycle of coal production peaked in 1918, with over 4 million st of coal. Production dropped after World War I and continued to decline with the economic depression of the 1920's and early 1930's. Conversion to diesel engines by the railroad and cheap natural gas also had an impact on the coal industry, and by 1958 New Mexico coal production had dropped to 86,000 st.

The next upward cycle began in the early 1960s because of the growing population in the Southwest and California and the need for economical energy. Several of the large surface mines operating today (McKinley, Navajo, San Juan) in the San Juan Basin began operation in the 1960's or 1970's.

Today, all of New Mexico's coal mines are surface operations. All of these are dragline operations except for La Plata, which is a truck-and-shovel operation.

Most of the coal from New Mexico is used for electrical generation. Two- thirds of the State's coal production is consumed by the three generating stations (San Juan, Four Corners, Escalante) located in northwestern New Mexico. Half of the electricity produced here is sent over transmission lines to California and Arizona. The remaining coal produced in New Mexico is shipped by rail to generating stations in Arizona.

New Mexico's 1997 coal production was 26.77 million st, up 8% from the previous year's production. New Mexico ranks 13th in coal production for the nation. Wyoming is first with ten times the production of New Mexico.

Coal is one of the four mineral fuels produced in New Mexico, ranking third in value behind natural gas (including coalbed methane) and crude oil. Total revenues from coal were $34.3 million in 1997. The majority of these revenues from coal go into funds that support public schools and education.

Coal resources underlie 20 percent (15 million acres) of the state's total area. Surface minable coal reserves for the San Juan Basin have recently been estimated by NMBMMR at 6.35 billion st. The Department of Energy estimates an additional 0.75 billion st of surface minable coal in the Raton Basin. These reserves are low-sulfur coals of subbituminous to bituminous rank that have potential for development.
New Mexico Wanderings
Adapted from a report by Gretchen K. Hoffman given at the Spring, 1999, meeting of the New Mexico Geology Society. next