The federal agency said domestic coal consumption during 2011’s final period was 227.1 million short tons, a slide of 18.8% and the lowest level recorded since the second quarter of 1995.
Officials said while the decline was largely due to reduced use by the electric power sector, it was partially offset by rising Asian and European exports.
The electricity sector used 208.6Mt during the quarter, a drop owing to the mild US winter and natural gas competition.
At the same time, export coal exceeded the five-year Q4 range (2006-2010) to 27.7Mt, rising almost 33% from the same period of 2010 and 6.6% from the third quarter of 2011.
The EIA pointed to supply disruptions in Australia, Indonesia and Colombia in late 2010 and the first part of 2011 for the increase, as well as increasingly strong demand growth in Asia.
“Exports to South Korea, Japan, China and India together accounted for approximately one-fourth of all coal exports in the fourth quarter of 2011,” officials said.
“Accelerated demand by China to support economic growth and by Japan for electricity generation and steel manufacturing following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident prompted other Asian nations to purchase coal to maintain stockpiles.”
The EIA confirmed the nation’s exports to Europe were up in Q4, both quarter-over-quarter and year-on-year.
Officials cited a shift in steam coal in South Africa from Europe to Asia as well as limited available spare capacity in Russia and Columbia to meet the country’s demand.
Metallurgical coal exports made up 65% of exports, or18Mt, at an average price of $US181.41 per ton.
Exports headed for the markets of South Korea, Japan and India were up to 3.9Mt, while China rose to 1.3Mt, or just above 28% over Q3 2011 but were steady with levels in Q4 2010.
On the steam side, exports rose 27% from Q4 2010 to 9.6Mt.
Exports of 1.2Mt to the UK and South Korea at about 900,000t together accounted for 22.4% of total steam coal exports in the period.
They were followed by lower exports to Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.