Western North Dakota has over an 800-year supply of lignite that is currently accessible and economically feasible to recover.
Lignite is more accessible than other types of coal because lignite veins are located relatively near the surface, eliminating the need for underground excavation in tunnels. Surface mining also eliminates the risk of methane or carbon monoxide buildup, a primary safety concern in underground mining.
Lignite mining is not totally without risk. As lignite mines are excavated, there is some risk that the pit’s tall, sloped earthen walls could collapse after a heavy rain. However, such incidents are extremely rare, in part because the industry has developed constant monitoring systems to alert managers when weather might be affecting mining conditions. The most common accidents in lignite mining are associated with the maintenance and operation of the heavy equipment required to dig and haul the coal. Injuries are rare and usually minor.
Safety is an ongoing priority for the companies that mine lignite in North Dakota. In September 2005, North Dakota’s Freedom Mine won the “Sentinels of Safety” Award from the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. The award is a special recognition for large surface coal mines.
The 800-year supply of lignite is based on a supply of 25 billion tons and a current production rate of 30 million tons per year.
Source: Strippable Lignite Deposits of North Dakota, Edward C. Murphy, North Dakota Geological Survey, 2001.
Lignite-based power plants in this region generate electricity at a cost significantly below that of all coal and natural gas power plants nationwide.
2019 Production Costs per Megawatt Hour
|power plant||costs per Mwh|
|Antelope Valley Station||$20.60|
|Leland Olds Station||$25.57|
|Milton R. Young Station||$25.80|
Average cost of all coal power plants nationwide is $32.35
Sources: Hitachi - ABB Power Grids, EIA
The use of lignite to generate electricity results in lower electricity costs for consumers, farms and businesses in North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana.
Lignite is used in an environmentally responsible manner by power plants.
Lignite-fired power plants have invested about $2 billion in state-of-the-art technology to keep our air clean. This investment accounts for 20 to 30 percent of the cost of a power plant.
North Dakota is one of only 14 states in the nation that meets all of EPA's strict federal ambient air quality standards (Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont and Washington).