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North Dakota coal production increases by 1 million tons

BISMARCK -- While North Dakota leaders question the future of the oil industry, another natural resource is increasing in production. The state's four lignite mines sold approximately 28.7 million tons of coal last year, up from 27.7 million tons...

BISMARCK -- While North Dakota leaders question the future of the oil industry, another natural resource is increasing in production.

The state’s four lignite mines sold approximately 28.7 million tons of coal last year, up from 27.7 million tons in 2013. The mines near Beulah, Center and Underwood increased or maintained their 2013 production levels, according to a press release Wednesday.

“Last year had its challenges, but overall, the lignite industry had a great year as evidenced by increased lignite sales, the start-up of a new lignite-based power plant and large investments made in several existing lignite facilities,” Jason Bohrer, president and chief executive officer of the Lignite Energy Council in Bismarck, said in a news release.

The coal industry is the fifth largest in the state and has averaged a yearly production of 30 million tons per year since 1988. The Freedom Mine, located 8 miles northwest of Beulah and owned by North American Coal Corp., is one of the 12 largest coal mines in the U.S. It is also the largest lignite mine in the country, averaging 15 million tons of coal annually. It saw a 10 percent increase in production in 2014.

The coal industry has made advances in energy production recently. The Spiritwood Station near Jamestown, owned by Great River Energy, began operations on Nov. 1. Basin Electric Power Co-op began working a $402 million project to build a urea production facility at the Great Plains Synfuels Plant, which receives coal from the Freedom Mine.

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The coal industry is also responsible for some of the highest wages in the state: Employees at the lignite mines and power plants earn wages that average about $80,000 annually, according to Job Service North Dakota.

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