If that total is reached, it will be the most in two decades. Illinois averaged about 60 million tons a year until Congress passed the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. That launched the state’s coal production on a downward slide that resulted in Illinois producing only about 30 million tons of coal annually in recent years.

In late September, shaft construction was almost finished at White Oak 1 and good progress was being made on the slope. Bottom development is expected to commence once the shaft is completed.

When in full production the mine should turn out 6 million to 6.5 million tons of coal annually from the Herrin No. 6 seam, which typically averages 11,800 Btu/lb and 4.5% sulfur.

Privately owned White Oak Resources is developing the mine with substantial financial support from Alliance Resource Partners of Tulsa, Okla. Alliance, which owns and operates several mines in the Illinois Basin, agreed a year ago to invest up to $525 million over several years in White Oak.

For Alliance, White Oak 1 could be the vehicle to drive export sales of IB coal. Alliance President and CEO Joe Craft has suggested as much as one-third to one-half of White Oak No. 1’s coal could go to the export market. The coal would be loaded onto barges at ALRP’s Mount Vernon terminal on the Ohio River in Posey County, Ind., just west of Evansville, and transported perhaps to New Orleans for shipment overseas.

White Oak will operate the mine and handle all marketing of coal. Alliance will construct and operate a prep plant, the loadout and coal-handling facilities.

Alliance already has acquired more than 100 million tons of reserves from White Oak, which controls enough reserves to eventually serve two large longwall mines.