When coal seams are near the surface, it may be economical to extract the coal using open cut (also referred to as open cast, open pit, or strip) mining methods. Open cast coal mining recovers a greater proportion of the coal deposit than underground methods, as more of the coal seams in the strata may be exploited. Large Open Cast mines can cover an area of many square kilometers and use very large pieces of equipment. This equipment can include the following: Draglines which operate by removing the overburden, power shovels, large trucks in which transport overburden and coal, bucket wheel excavators, and conveyors. In this mining method, explosives are first used in order to break through the surface, or overburden, of the mining area. The overburden is then removed by draglines or by shovel and truck. Once the coal seam is exposed, it is drilled, fractured and thoroughly mined in strips. The coal is then loaded on to large trucks or conveyors for transport to either the coal preparation plant or directly to where it will be used.
Most open cast mines in the United States extract bituminous coal. In Australia and South Africa open cast mining is used for both thermal and metallurgical coals. In New South Wales open casting for steam coal and anthracite is practiced. Surface mining accounts for around 80 percent of production in Australia, while in the US it is used for about 67 percent of production. Globally, about 40 percent of coal production involves surface mining.