Tour Locations | Interstate 55: St. Louis, MO to Springfield, IL
LOCATION 53 | Interstate 55: St. Louis, MO to Springfield, IL
Coal Below Us
Now, back to why there is so much coal beneath the surface of Illinois and how it got here.
300 million years ago, the land that is below us now was located about where West Africa is today. The surface of this land, along with about two thirds of the land which we now call Illinois, was part of a very large River Delta mostly consisting of a muddy swamp. Trees here grew more than 100 feet high and there were dragonflies as large as birds. We know this, because we have found their fossilized remains below the surface of Illinois in the same region where coal can be found. There can be little doubt that similar fossils are just a few hundred feet below us now, as the coal beneath us has not been mined.
Anyway, 300 million years ago, when the plants and animals that lived here died, they were quickly covered in the muddy swamp which prevented them from rapidly decaying. As the North American continent drifted westward, more and more sediment piled up on the land, and millions and millions of years of pressure from above turned these plants and animals into coal. When we burn coal, we release the energy trapped from these plants and animals that once dominated the land.
More coal can be found beneath the surface of Illinois than any other state except Montana. However, Illinois coal has a much higher sulfur content than coal from Montana or Wyoming, and burning the high sulfur coal before cleaning it, is far more detrimental to our environment. Because the coal has to be cleaned, most of the mines in Illinois are closed, even though 95% of the coal that formed below its surface, is still there.