Tennessee's Mineral Industry

Tennessee's mineral industry contributed more than $1 billion in product value in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available. In 2015 total direct and indirect economic impact was more than $4.9 billion, affecting nearly 28,000 jobs. Tennessee has a history of mining more different kinds of mineral resources than any other state east of the Mississippi River except North Carolina, dating back to the late 18th century.

Energy minerals found in Tennessee include fossil fuels such as coal, oil, natural gas, and oil shale, and radioactive minerals, but not all are in deposits large enough or high-grade enough to recover under present economic conditions. Only coal, oil, and natural gas are currently being recovered, and their value accounted for about 11.5 percent ($126 million) of the State's mineral production value in 2013.

Tennessee's coal production is small but generally high quality. All present production is bituminous coal from the Cumberland Plateau and Cumberland Mountains regions. There is a sizable reserve of lignite in West Tennessee, more than a billion tons, but as yet there has been no mining. Because of its potential impact on ground water resources, the Tennessee Geological Survey partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey to assess problems that might arise should surface mining of those reserves ultimately be developed. Coal production accounted for less than 7 percent ($75 million) of Tennessee's mineral production value.

Tennessee's oil and gas production is small by national standards. Oil production totaled about 334,000 barrels in 2013, down from more than one million barrels in 1982. Gas production was close to zero before 1977, when pipelines first reached the fields, but rose to slightly more than 5.4 billion cubic feet in 2013. Its value ($19.7 million) was about 63 percent of that of the oil production ($31 million), accounting for slightly more than 4.6 percent of Tennessee's mineral production value.

Tennessee is the leading producer of ball clay in the nation out of five producing states. Ball clay is used primarily in the manufacture of dinnerware, floor and wall tile, pottery, and sanitary ware.

Construction materials mined or quarried in Tennessee include dimension stone (sandstone and marble), crushed stone, limestone and clay for making cement, and sand and gravel. While some of these are considered to be mineral commodities, rather than minerals in the strictest sense, they are all a very important part of Tennessee's mineral industry. Collectively, these materials accounted for more than 51 percent ($559 million) of the state's mineral production value, and production of one or more occurs in virtually every county in the State.

Zinc is another mineral of considerable importance to Tennessee's economy. Mines and mills are being operated in Grainger, Jefferson, and Knox counties in East Tennessee, and in Smith County in Middle Tennessee. Tennessee is currently the second largest producer of zinc in the nation. An electrolytic zinc plant in Clarksville operates at 122,000 tons of zinc and 157,000 tons of sulfuric acid per year, and is the only primary zinc producer in the U.S. This plant produces primary cadmium as a by-product during roasting and leaching of the zinc concentrate, along with sulfuric acid, copper by-products, synthetic gypsum, and germanium concentrate. The Smith county mines produce the highest-grade zinc concentrate in the world at 62 percent and are also one of the world's largest sources of germanium, a critical and strategic material that is used in fiber optics, infrared systems, and semiconductors.

Last updated January, 2017