Why Study Coal in Illinois?
The ISGS Coal Section is primarily concerned with the study of the coalbearing Pennsylvanian rocks in the Illinois coal field that underlie 37,000 square miles or 68% of the state. More than 211 billion tons of identified resources are currently estimated to lie beneath the state. Of this amount, the demonstrated reserve base is 112 billion tons, as defined in terms of minimum thickness and some geologic assurance of coal's presence. This demonstrated coal reserve base is the second largest in the United States and, for bituminous coal, is the largest in the nation.
Illinois coal resources hold more BTUs (British thermal units, a measure of heat) than all of Saudi Arabia's and Kuwait's oil reserves combined. The electric industry is by far the largest user of Illinois coal. In the United States, 52% of the nation's electricity comes from coal generation. Coal makes up nearly 85% of the U.S. fuel resources and, at present rates of consumption, should last for more than 250 years. Thus, coal is expected to be an important part of the energy mix for a long time to come. By year 2020, electricity consumption is expected to grow by 35% in the United States and by 70% worldwide. Much of this increase is due to computer use, proving that even in this modern computer information age, we still need coal! Finally, coal provides nearly $1 billion dollars a year to the economy of the state, and continued study of coal resources is needed to improve the overall economic outlook of Illinois.
Pennsylvanian Age Mire Forest
John Nelson and Scott Elrick in the Coal Section of the Illinois State Geological Survey, in cooperation with Bill DiMichele of the National Museum of Natural History Smithsonian Institution, Howard Falcon-Lang of the Univeristy of Bristol and Phil Ames of Peabody Energy recently published a paper about the ecology of a fossil forest in the journal Geology.
ISGS geologists received another bit of publicity from their fossil forest discovery near Danville, Illinois. Discover Magazine honored this discovery by including them in the "Top 100 Science Stories of 2007" in the January 2008 issue. A small summary article and interview with Scott Elrick are contained in the magazine article. The fossil forest was also featured in the July 2007 issue of Outdoor Illinois; an article entitled Underground Science (pdf).