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Wabaunsee Group Coal Resources

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Summary of Wabaunsee Coal Production and Reserves

According to information available (Table 11), 12,017,737 tons of Wabaunsee coal were mined in the Wabaunsee coal-bearing area from 1869 to December 31, 1944. This amount is 4.7 percent of all coal mined in Kansas. Of the 12,017,737 tons of Wabaunsee coal mined, 98 percent was Nodaway coal and the remaining 2 percent was Elmo and miscellaneous coals (Table 11) The greatest tonnage of Wabaunsee coals, 11,448,861 tons or 95.2 percent, came from mines in Osage County, with Coffey, and Brown counties ranking next (Table 11).

Table 11--Summary of Wabaunsee coal production and coal reserver, in eastern Kansas, by counties, in tons

County Production Proved reserves Potential reserves
Nodaway Elmo and
Total Nodaway Elmo Others Total Nodaway Elmo Others Total
Atchison   46,000 46,090 1,410,000 9,910,000   11,323,000 115,210,000 137,210,000   252,929,060
Brown   100,000 100,000   23,160,000 280,000 23,440,000   455,900,000 224,000,000 679,900,000
Chautauqua   35,273 35,273   5,720,000   5,720,000   21.6,020,000   216,020,000
Coffey 199,603   199,603 11,320,000     11,320,000 15,220,000     15,220,000
Cowley   10,000 10,000     6,790,000 6,790,000     191,990,000 191,990,000
Doniphan         3,980,000     3,980,000 47,280,000   47,280,000
Elk   10,000 10,000 1,220,000 2,020,000   3,240,000 72,020,000 259,220,000   331,240,000
Greenwood                   61,600,000 61,600,000
Jackson         2,800,000   2,800,000   191,500,000   191,500,000
Jefferson 40,000   40,000 13,600,000     13,600,000 132,000,000     132,000,000
Lyon   18,000 18,000 2,800,000   2,720,000 5,520,000 120,800,000   182,380,000 303,180,000
Nemaha 30,000   30,000 5,760,000     5,760,000 268,800,000     268,800,000
Osage 11,448,861   11,448,861 77,670,000     77,670,000 269,830,000     269,830,000
Pottawatomie                   160,000,000 160,000,000
Shawnee 65,000 15,000 90,000 10,290,000 3,950,000 1,280,000 15,520,000 244,800,000 256,000,000 64,000,000 564,800,000
Total 11,783,464 234,273 12,017,737 128,050,000 47,560,000 11,070,000 86,680,000 1,285,960,000 1,515,850,000 883,970,000 3,685,780,000
* All Elmo coal except figures for Cowley and Lyon counties.

More Wabaunsee coal remains in the ground than has been extracted from it. The proved reserves are calculated at 1.86,680,000 tons or an amount 15.5 times more than has thus far been produced. The Wabaunsee coal reserves are sufficient to last about 50 years at the average rate of production for the last 5 years. Of these proved reserve coals 128,050,000 tons or 68.5 percent is Nodaway coal, 47,560,000 tons or 25.4 percent is Elmo coal, and the remaining 11,070,000 tons or 6.1 percent is other miscellaneous coals. Osage County leads in the amount of proved reserve of Wabaunsee coals with 77,670,000 tons.

The potential Wabaunsee coal reserves exceed the proved reserves by 19.7 times. The total potential reserve is 3,685,780,000 tons of which 1,285,960,000 tons or 34.8 percent is Nodaway coal, 1,515,850,000 tons or 41.1 percent is Elmo coal, and 883,970,000 tons or 24.1 percent is miscellaneous coals. The potential Wabaunsee coal reserves are sufficient to last about 250 years if the coal is mined at the average rate of production for the 5-year period 1940-44.

Origin of Wabaunsee Coals

Coals are accumulations of organic matter, mainly of vegetable origin. The vegetation consists of many kinds-trees, ferns, grasses, sedges, mosses, algae and micro-organisms such as trunks, leaves, stems, branches, seeds, and spores. All these, together with animal remains and inorganic sediments such as silts, sands, and muds, were deposited in a body of water. The coals are believed to consist of the most resistant components of the plants, particularly resins, resin waxes, and higher fats, or the derivatives of compounds comprising them. It is commonly agreed that coal originated from vegetation which grew in swampy or marshy places or was washed into them. The vegetation was usually covered by water, although not to any great depth. As the vegetation died, it underwent a partial decay and was buried beneath successive layers of matter like itself or of earthy sediments. As the accumulations increased the vegetable matter was subjected to a gradual increase in pressure and an increase in temperature, all of which were factors in the formation of the coal of today. Some of the coal-forming vegetation grew directly in the swamp in which the coal eventually formed, whereas in other cases the vegetable matter drifted in. It is generally believed that coal was formed in fresh water swamps rather than in marine waters and that coal therefore is a terrestrial -or continental type of deposit.

The origin of the Wabaunsee coals was not especially considered in this investigation, but factors that suggest clues to the environment or site of deposition of the coal have been observed. Some of the Wabaunsee coals, especially the Nodaway, Elmo, Nyman, and Lorton, extend without interruption across the entire north-south width of the state, a distance of more than 200 miles. Furthermore, they are also known to occur in Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa. This widespread distribution strongly suggests that the swamp in which the vegetation grew or in which it was deposited was. not a local isolated inland swamp but rather a coastal swamp bordering the continental shore line for hundreds of miles, very much like the marginal swamps of today along the Atlantic seaboard. Whether the swamp waters were entirely fresh or partly brackish is not known. The presence of an underclay immediately beneath the coal suggests that the vegetation, which later was converted into coal, grew in the swamp environment rather than drifting in from elsewhere. In many places the coal is immediately overlain by fossiliferous marine limestone or separated from it by a few inches of marine fossil-bearing shale, which indicates that the coal was formed in coastal swamps close to sea level. The juxtaposition of the marine strata to the seemingly nonmarine coal suggests that a very slight change in sea level could easily flood a fresh to brackish marginal or coastal swamp with marine waters, sever or destroy the barrier between the swamp and the open sea, and thus convert the swamp into open ocean again. The fact that highly fossiliferous marine limestone overlies the coal also indicates that the land adjacent to the swamp must have been low at the time of coal formation. The great predominance of crinoid stems among the fossils suggests that the waters were clear and that relatively little sediment was being washed in from the shore, conditions which again indicate low-lying shore lines. The general absence of clay partings and other visible impurities in the coal strengthens this hypothesis.

Core Drilling

Although it is reasonably certain that the coal beneath the surface of the coal reserve lands forms a continuous deposit and that within limits the thickness of the coal is fairly uniform and predictable, it is nevertheless recommended that sufficient tests by core drilling or other methods be made to establish definitely the actual thickness of the coal as well as its quality in areas thought worthy of exploitation. Such tests could be made with relative ease, speed, and low cost as the overburden, usually soft shales or sandstones, is commonly less than 150 feet thick and in many places less than 50 feet.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Geology
Placed on web Jan. 27, 2013; originally published December 1946.
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