The Pittsburgh coal seam underlies much of northern and north-central West Virginia and neighboring Pennsylvania, and is found as far south as Mason and Putnam counties. In geologic terms the Pittsburgh coal belongs to the Monongahela series. In West Virginia the seam covers an area of approximately 2,600 square miles. Pittsburgh coal is noted for its consistently high Btu content and its low ash, as well as an average thickness of between six and eight feet. A primary concern with the seam is its high sulfur content.
The high coking quality of this coal enabled the growth of the steel industry in the Pittsburgh area and the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. Pittsburgh coal was mined in small amounts in the early 1800s. The first commercial shipment of Pittsburgh coal was sent to Baltimore in 1851 from a mine near Newburg, Preston County. Mining expanded as railroads penetrated the northern West Virginia coalfields. Today, Pittsburgh coal continues to be mined and accounts for higher production than any other seam in the state. Currently most Pittsburgh coal is mined from large deep shaft mines using longwall mining machines. Approximately 80 percent of the coal produced from the Pittsburgh seam goes to generate electricity while the remaining 20 percent goes to export and other markets.
Written by David J. Kessler