16 photos that show the dirty way the world gets an important energy source

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Re-Examining Coal Use In America

While global coal use has fallen significantly in recent years, so far in 2016 it has seen a slight rebound, placing among the top five best performing commodities, according to Citibank.

And producers expect continued improvements this year. "Assessing the remainder of 2016, we are beginning to see some positive signs in the domestic thermal coal markets," said Joe Craft, the CEO of Alliance Resource Partners and Alliance Holdings GP.

16 PHOTOS
Photos show dirty truth behind coal mining
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Photos show dirty truth behind coal mining

Coal use in China, one of the world's largest consumers, fell two percentage points in 2015, but was still 64% of the country's energy sources. Here a villager selects coal near a mine on the outskirts of Jixi, in Heilongjiang province, China.

Source: The Guardian

(Photo via REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Coal consumption in the EU was flat last year, after declining in 2014. Below, miners leave after working the final shift at Kellingley Colliery in December 2015. Kellingley was the last deep coal mine to close in England, bringing to an end centuries of coal mining in Britain.

Source: Associated Press 

(Photo via REUTERS/Oli Scarff/Pool)

Miners working about 1,640 feet underground at the Boleslaw Smialy coal mine, a unit of the coal miner Kompania Weglowa, in Laziska Gorne, Silesia, southern Poland, on September 11.

(Photo via REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files)

Coal miners breaking their fast during the holy month of Ramadan, 2,427 feet deep inside the Stara Jama coal mine, in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on July 15.

(Photo via REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)

Twelve-year-old Abdul Kayum from Assam pauses for a portrait while working at a coal depot carrying coal to be crushed on April 15, 2011, near Lad Rymbai, in the district of Jaintia Hills, India.

(Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

A miner waiting for a bus after leaving the Zasyadko coal mine in Donetsk, Ukraine, on March 4, 2015. Dozens of miners were trapped underground after a blast at the coal mine in the eastern Ukrainian rebel stronghold of Donetsk; 33 miners were killed.

Source: CNN

(Photo via REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

Miners in 2014 preparing for their final working day at Hungary's last hard coal deep-cast mine at Markushegy. The underground mine, west of the capital city Budapest, stopped producing coal at the end of 2014, in line with a EU effort to shut down uncompetitive hard coal mines.

Source: Reuters

(Photo via REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh)

A laborer taking a break at a coal-dump site outside Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, in 2014.

(Photo via REUTERS/Anil Usyan)

Miner Mohammad Ismail, 25, digging in a coal mine in Choa Saidan Shah, Punjab province, Pakistan, in 2014.

(Photo via REUTERS/Sara Farid)

Workers at this mine in Choa Saidan Shah in Pakistan dig coal with pick axes, break it up, and load it onto donkeys to be transported to the surface.

(Photo via REUTERS/Sara Farid)

All in all, global demand for coal has stalled for the first time since the 1990s, according to the International Energy Agency, which expects coal's share of global power generation to fall from 41% now to 37% by 2020, even as use rises in India and Southeast Asia. Here, a worker carries a container filled with drinking water at a railway coal yard on the outskirts of the western Indian city of Ahmedabad.

Source: Associated Press

(Photo via REUTERS/Amit Dave)

Hundreds of coal-powered plants are slated for retirement in the US, where coal's share of energy generation was 36% in 2015, down from 50% 10 years prior. Here, coal miners enter a mine for the start of an afternoon shift near Gilbert, West Virginia.

Source: Bloomberg

(Photo via REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

Workers unload coal from a truck into a stock field in Cigading harbour in Cilegon, Banten province, in 2010. Domestic coal consumption has risen in Indonesia in recent years, jumping 15% to 87.43 million metric tons in 2015.

(Photo via REUTERS/Dadang Tri)

Steve Torgersen, a Norwegian mining expert, showing the size of a fossil footprint of a hippopotamus-like creature, a pantodont, on the roof of a coal mine on the Norwegian Arctic island of Spitsbergen in 2007.

(Photo via REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)

A coal miner registering the quantity of coal produced by each miner on an improvised chalkboard inside an artisanal mine, or "pocito," at the town of Nueva Rosita, Mexico, in 2008. The mines, called "pocitos," or "little holes," are known for their rudimentary and often dangerous mining techniques.

(Photo via REUTERS/Tomas Bravo)

Rescuers carrying a miner who sustained injuries after a mine explosion to an ambulance in Soma, a district in Turkey's western province of Manisa, about 75 miles northeast of the Aegean coastal city of Izmir, in 2014. In Turkey's worst mining disaster in decades, "a fire broke out [and] one of the pits was engulfed with carbon monoxide. It was Turkey's worst ever industrial accident: 301 miners died, some burnt alive, others suffocating," according to the BBC.

Source: BBC

(Photo via REUTERS/ Osman Orsal)

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Energy firm Cloud Peak noted in an earnings release that, "if summer burn is strong, utilities are expected to rebuild their stockpiles in anticipation of winter demand. This scenario creates the potential for strong shipments and increasing sales this fall."

Recent improvements don't augur a return to past highs — coal production has declined significantly in the US — but they do indicate that coal remains an in-demand fuel source around the world. And as long as that is the case, it will have to be pulled from the earth. As the photos above show, that can be a dirty process.

Now check out: Gas prices are the lowest since the Great Recession — see how far they'll get you on America's highways

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