|Harlan, Ky. (David Stephenson for The Wall Street Journal)|
Nearly all the unemployed miners interviewed followed the lead of regional politicians and blamed President Obama's environmental policies, but "Most coal industry executives see the situation as more complex. They say the stepped-up regulations have exacerbated a market depression brought about by new fracking technologies that have revolutionized natural gas drilling and made it possible to tap massive reservoirs of gas from deep shale layers," the reporters write. Also, Central Appalachia's best coal seams have been mined out, and the field is the nation's most expensive to mine. Kentucky has less higher-grade coal, and less direct rail access.
The Rural Blog has reported much the same, but the Journal reporters offer a global perspective: "Analysts have started to compare Central Appalachia to other mined-out areas around the globe, such as Germany's Ruhr valley, or Great Britain, which employed 6,000 coal miners last year, compared with 150,000 in 1983, according to the British government." They quote Lucas Pipes, an analyst with Brean Capital LLC, a New York-based investment bank: "There are tipping points where the basin is simply uncompetitive against new supply sources, and one could argue that this may have occurred for Central Appalachia."