Coal mining in the western San Juan Basin, San Juan County, New Mexico
John M. Mercier
Coal mining in New Mexico essentially began in the mid 1800s driven by the expanding network of railroads into the West. An early peak in production occurred around the end of World War I and then began a long decline until the late 1950s. After this long stagnant period for the coal industry, a new market was defined by changing demographics and largescale mining accelerated in the early 1960’s to meet the energy demands of the rapidly growing population of the Southwestern US.
More recent development of coal resources has focused on the creation of thermal electric energy. In San Juan County, New Mexico, the economic coal seams of the Fruitland Fm. exposed along the margins of the San Juan Basin, offer easy access to significant resources amenable to surface- mining methods. In a notable exception, an underground longwall operation has successfully extended coal extraction in a location where increasing overburden created unfavorable economics for further surface operations.
With the clustering of coal-fired power plants adjacent to the various coal mines, new controversies have arisen in recent years focused on regional air quality, economic development of natural resources, global warming, and impacts to the indigenous Native community. Improved mining and innovative reclamation methods, as well as the infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars of environmental technology into local power plants, suggest that coal mining is still a viable industry in New Mexico.
- Mercier, John M., 2010, Coal mining in the western San Juan Basin, San Juan County, New Mexico, in: Geology of the Four Corners Country, Fassett, James E.; Zeigler, Kate E.; Lueth, Virgil W., New Mexico Geological Society, Guidebook 61st Field Conference, pp. 173-180.