The decline of the Eastern Kentucky coal industry has been a topic often discussed in Knott County during the past year. A report issued this month by the Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence outlines specifics of how our state, region and county have been affected from 2011 to 2012. Coal production across the state was down 16.3%, according to the report — to the lowest level since 1965. Production at underground mines was down 10.6%, compared to a 24.7% decline in surface mining.
In Eastern Kentucky alone, coal production at underground mines was down 27.3% and 27.8% in surface mining.
Knott was among 15 Eastern Kentucky counties having a decrease in coal production of more than 15%. There were 2,641,000 tons of coal mined in Knott County from 2011 to 2012 – a decline of 45.1% from the previous year.
This difference had a devastating effect on employment. The report listed only 330 people working at coal mines in Knott County – down 63.2%.
Statewide, employment at Kentucky coal mines fell over 22 percent from December 2011 to December 2012. Eastern Kentucky was hardest hit, with on-site employment falling 29.9 percent, a loss of 4,068 employees.
Coal production in Western Kentucky actually increased 2.5% during this time period. Union County became the largest coal producing county in Kentucky, surpassing Pike County for the first time in recent history.