National Geographic : 1907 Feb
HOW LONG WILL THE COAL RESERVES OF THE UNITED STATES LAST?* BY MARIUS R. CAMPBELL OF THE UNITED STATES GEOLOGICAL SURVEY WITH the exception of food and clothing, nothing concerns us so much as fuel. On it we depend for heat and light to make our selves comfortable, and for power by which to bring within our reach all that goes to make up the material part of our twentieth-century civilization. Today power is the mainspring of human activ ity; with it modern civilization will flour ish-will expand and reach out to the ends of the earth to minister to our pleas ures or to satisfy our ambitions; without it so-called civilization will cease to exist and humanity will revert to the condition of primitive man, with brute force as the only dependence for safety and existence. If, therefore, power is the foundation of all of the material things we consider worth having, is it not well to stop our mad race for a moment and consider whence it comes and how much of the raw material is available for future use? Without doubt, coal is the only fuel that today is worth considering, and, so far as we can see ahead, it will continue to be the fuel of the future-at least so long as it is within our reach or until other means of power production shall supplant it. Therefore any study of the fuel supply of the future must be based upon a thor ough knowledge of coal, its mode of oc currence, amount from which future supplies can be drawn, and rate of con sumption, past, present, and to come. The importance of the subject is shown by the growing value of the coal mining industry in this country. In the United States in 1905t coal to the amount of 384,598,643 short tons, hav ing a value of $476,756,963, was mined. The value, compared with other mineral products in the same year, is shown by the following table: TABLE SHOWING VALUES OF MINERAL PRO DUCTS OF THE UNITED STATES FOR 1905 Coal . Iron Clay products Copper . Oil and gas Gold and silver * $476,756,963 382,450,000 149,697,188 139,795,716 125,720,254 122,402,683 At the present time the United States is the largest factor in the world's pro duction of coal, as shown by the diagram on page 130. In the diagram given above the pro duction of the three leading countries is that for the year 1905; of the other coun tries figures for that year are not avail able, and the blocks in the diagram repre sent the production during either the year 1904 or 1903. THE GROWTH OF COAL Coal is derived from vegetable ma terial, either as accumulations in swamps from plants growing in situ or as wood that has been drifted into basins. In either case the accumulation of vegetable matter has been covered by earthy ma terial washed into the swamp or basin and finally converted into coal. The for mer hypothesis is more generally ac cepted than the latter, and it seems to apply to most of the coal beds of this country. The transformation from vegetable matter into the different grades of coals is a process not well understood, but it seems to consist of the breaking up of hydrocarbons and a partial slow distilla- *An address to the National Geographic Society, January 22, 1907. tAll statistics of production given in this paper are taken from U. S . Geological Survey, Mineral Resources of the United States for 1905.