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Geologic Analysis of the Coal-Bearing Rocks of the Western Kentucky Coal Field for the Development of Coal Resources

Contact Steve Greb

The Kentucky Geological survey collects data on near-surface coals and coal-bearing strata as the data become available. New roadcuts, surface-mine highwalls, and other man-made excavations are measured, and where appropriate samples are collected. These data help us understand how the coal-bearing strata were deposited, and make possible a more accurate correlation of coal beds in the coal field. Then geologic models can be developed or refined to make possible the most efficient development of western Kentucky coal resources.

The Western Kentucky Coal Field is characterized by moderate- to high-sulfur coals. The Federal Clean Air Act requires that no more than 1.2 pounds of sulfur dioxide per million Btu should be released when coal is burned without the use of scrubbers. Most coals mined in the coal field are higher in sulfur than this, but some low- to moderate-sulfur coals such as the Western Kentucky No. 4 have been mined, although they are not widespread.

Some of the factors that affect the sulfur content of coal beds in western Kentucky include the type of strata overlying the mined seam, position relative to local faults, post-accumulation fluid migration, the relative stratigraphic position of the seam, and possibly the paleoclimate in which the seam originally accumulated. Likewise, not all coal seams have the same thickness characteristics or distribution. Many geologic factors influence coal-bed thickness and extent. If we can document near-surface variability in coal thickness, distribution, and quality, we can use that information to determine how geologic factors influence different coal seams in western Kentucky. If trends are identified, case studies and models can be developed that may help industry and others better understand trends in coal characteristics in western Kentucky, as well as in other coal areas.

For more information:

Controls on Western Kentucky Coals
  • Greb, S.F., Eble, C.F., and Chesnut, D.R., Jr., 2002, Comparison of the Eastern and Western Kentucky Coal Fields, U.S.A-Why are coal distribution patterns and sulfur contents so different in these coal fields?: International Journal of Coal Geology, v. 50, p. 89-118. (for pdf version via Sciencedirect).
  • Eble, C.F., Greb, S.F., and Williams, D.A., 2001, The geology and palynology of Lower and Middle Pennsylvanian Strata in the Western Kentucky Coal Field: International Journal of Coal Geology, v. 47, p. 189-206. (for pdf version via Sciencedirect).
  • Greb, S.F., Eble, C. F, Williams, D. A., and Nelson, W.J., 2001, Dips, ramps, and rolls--Evidence for paleotopographic and syndepositional-fault control on the Western Kentucky No. 4 coal bed, Tradewater Formation (Bolsovian), Illinois Basin: International Journal of Coal Geology, v. 45, p. 227-246. (for pdf version via Sciencedirect).
  • Greb, S.F., and Williams, D.A., 2000, Mining geology of western Kentucky coals: Kentucky Geological Survey, ser.12, Map and Chart 12, 1 sheet. (for pdf version).
  • Hower, J.C., Greb, S.F., Cobb, J.C., and Williams, D.A., 2000, Discussion on origin of vanadium in coals--Parts of the Western Kentucky (USA) No. 9 coal rich in vanadium: Journal of the Geological Society, London, v. 157, p. 1257-1259.
  • Eble, C.F., Greb, S.F., Williams, D.A., and Hower, J.C., 1999, Observations on the palynology, petrography, and geochemistry of the Western Kentucky Number 4 coal bed: International Journal of Coal Geology, v. 39, p. 121-139. (for pdf version via Sciencedirect).
  • Greb, S.F., Chesnut, D.R., Jr., Eble, C.F., Nelson, W.J., and Blake, B.M., 1998, Changing influences of tectonics, eustacy, and climate on Pennsylvanian coals in the Illinois and Appalachian Basins [abs.]: Geological Society of America, Abstracts with Programs, v. 30, p. A-47.
  • Greb, S.F., Eble, C.F., and Nelson, W.J., 1999, Controls on Pennsylvanian paleoenvironments in the Illinois Basin [abs.]: Geological Society of America, Abstracts with Programs, v. 31, no. 5, p. A-18.
  • Greb, S.F., and Williams, D.A., 1999, Mining geology of western Kentucky coals [abs.]: American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, v. 8, p. 1368.
  • Greb, S.F., Williams, D.A., and Williamson, A.D., 1992, Geology and stratigraphy of the Western Kentucky Coal Field: Kentucky Geological Survey, ser. 11, Bulletin 2, 77 p.

Depositional Environments of Western Kentucky Coals