Coal exports exceeded expectations at start of year (Billings Gazette)
Coal exports exceeded expectations at start of year
U.S. coal exports rose sharply in early 2017 amid increased demand in Asia and Europe.
The U.S. Department of Energy said Tuesday that exports are up by 8 million tons to 22.3 million tons through March.
That’s a 58 percent jump over the 14.1 million tons exported during the same period in 2016. The increase comes after five years of declines.
Exporting Wyoming coal has long been an idea on the backburner for state leaders eager to find more places to sell the Powder River Basin rock. But the economics simply haven’t lined up. Only Cloud Peak Energy, the Gillette-based company with mines in northern Wyoming and across the border in Montana, has plans to export to Asia this year. The company has 3.3 million tons of exports under contract for the year. It sent 0.5 million tons across seas in the first three months of the year.
Other companies operating in Wyoming have shown interest in developments like the Millennium Bulk export terminal in Longview, Washington, which if completed would open up another conduit to send U.S. coal to Asia. The terminal was first proposed in 2012 and has experienced repeated delays in permitting and pushback from environmental opponents. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is set to release a final environmental review of the project later this year.
Export volumes in the first quarter of the year were up most significantly through ports in Norfolk, Virginia, and New Orleans. Top destinations for U.S. coal were the Netherlands, South Korea and India.
Despite the increase, volumes remain well below industry expectations when plans were announced over the past decade to build or expand coal ports in Oregon, Louisiana, Washington state and California.
Most of those projects have stalled or been canceled. Federal officials say there’s still more export capacity than needed.
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