The biggest coal mines in the world are vast operations and still remain as one of the most dominant sources of raw materials for power plants and global industry. Globally, there are thousands of coal mines in operation. From small local mines to the largest coal mines on the planet, they all play a part in contributing to worldwide coal production. This global spread underscores a continued reliance on coal and the challenges of transitioning to alternative energy sources.
The world’s giant coal mines can be measured and compared using several key metrics, each offering a different perspective on what constitutes ‘biggest.’ These metrics include production output, i.e. how much coal is mined annually, the physical size of the mine, and coal reserves, or how much coal remains underground.
The amount of coal that remains underground is referred to as 2P reserves, the combination of proven reserves (confirmed by drilling and sampling), and probable reserves, less certain than proven reserves but with a reasonable level of confidence based on geological and engineering data.
For this article, we’re using the latest available figures for annual production output to determine the largest coal mine in the world.
Cerrejón Coal Mine
Location: La Guajira, Colombia | Annual Output: Approx. 20-25 million tonnes
Owned by Glencore, one of the world’s largest natural resource companies, the Cerrejón open-pit coal mine opened in 1985 and is one of the planet’s giant coal mines by production as well as physical size. It takes up approximately 690 square kilometres of land in northern Colombia, close to the Venezuelan border. Once the coal is excavated, it’s transported on a 150-km railway line to the port of Puerto Bolivar where it’s shipped all over the world.
Loy Yang Coal Mine
Location: Victoria, Australia | Annual Output: Approx. 28-30 million tonnes
The largest coal mine in Australia and one of the biggest coal mines in the world, Loy Yang is a surface mine providing a type of brown coal known as lignite. The coal is for the Loy Yang Power Station, located in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, one of the largest coal-fired power stations in the country.
The Loy Yang complex, encompassing both the mine and the power station, plays a significant role in Australia’s electricity supply. The nameplate capacity of the power station makes it the largest power station in Australia.
Location: Ekibastuz, Kazakhstan | Annual Output: Approx. 32.5 million tonnes
In the mid-1980s, the Bogatyr Mine was listed in Guinness World Records as the biggest coal mine in the world. Located in the Ekibastuz Basin in the Pavlodar Region in northeastern Kazakhstan, the two mines run by owners Bogatyr Coal – Bogatyr and Severny – are believed to produce around 40% of Kazakhstan’s coal.
Together, the mines are said to hold reserves of approximately 4.1 billion tonnes of coal, giving them a lifespan of around 100 years.
Gevra OC Mine
Location: Chhattisgarh, India | Annual Output: Approx. 52 million tonnes
Located in the Korba Coalfield in the north-central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, the Gevra mine is an open cast complex believed to be the largest of its kind both in India and the whole of Asia. One of the largest coal mines in the world, it’s operated by a subsidiary of Coal India. Together with two other local mines – Kusmunda and Dipka – they produce over 95% of Korba’s coal, the largest coal-producing district in India.
Gevra opened in 1981 and is around 42 square kilometres. P2 reserves are said to be approximately 1.3 billion tonnes.
Black Thunder Coal Mine
Location: Wyoming, USA | Annual Output: Approx.56.4 million tonnes
Opened in 1977, the Black Thunder Coal Mine in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin is the second biggest coal mine in the world. Black Thunder is a surface mine – where huge excavators remove topsoil and rocks to expose coal seams – and it’s believed to produce over a quarter of Wyoming’s total coal production. It covers an area of over 35,000 acres and it’s estimated that the 2P reserves of coal at Black Thunder are almost 1.4 billion tonnes.
North Antelope Rochelle Mine
Location: Wyoming, USA | Annual Output: Approx. 60.7 million tonnes
A surface mine just south of the town of Gillette, Wyoming, in the Powder River Basin, the largest coal mine in the world was created after the merger of the Rochelle Mine with the North Antelope Mine in 1999.
North Antelope Rochelle is a surface mine employing around 1,200 people. According to the company’s website, there are around 1.27 billion tonnes of proven and probable reserves waiting to be extracted.
The Coal Crossroads: The World’s Largest Coal Mines
Standing at the crossroads of an energy transition, the biggest coal mine in the world and the pretenders to its throne symbolise the balance between economic imperatives and environmental stewardship. The future of these mines, and indeed of the coal industry at large, will be shaped by evolving policies, technological advancements, and the pressing need to address climate change.
While they continue to play a large role in today’s energy production, the shift towards sustainable and renewable energy sources casts a profound question on the long-term viability and legacy of the world’s biggest coal mines.