In its data brief released late last week, the agency said the export destinations added to the nation’s export growth of late as it inched towards an all-time high this year.
“Despite growing demand in Asia, the United States exports slightly more coal to Europe than it sends the rest of the world combined,” the EIA said.
As expected, US coal exports to Europe continued to be primarily serviced from east coast ports such as top-ranked Norfolk, Virginia (which also serves as the largest coal export facility in the US), as well as third-largest Baltimore, Maryland.
“Exports to Asia originate mostly from the east coast as well, primarily out of Baltimore,” the EIA added.
“Somewhat counter-intuitively, most coal out of Baltimore – almost double the port's European volume – is destined for Asia, the world's largest coal-consuming region.”
Through August, Norfolk and New Orleans had the distinction of being the top two US port shippers.
Norfolk handled 34.8 million tons in the first eight months of the year, or 23.7Mt of metallurgical coal and 11.1Mt of steam coal.
New Orleans handled 19.2Mt, 4.7Mt of which was steam coal.
Through the end of that month, Baltimore had 14.9Mt pass through its gates, while Mobile, Alabama had 7.3Mt and Seattle 3.3Mt, Cleveland had 2Mt and Houston-Galveston recorded 1.6Mt.
"With access to barge shipments down the Mississippi River, exports out of New Orleans have grown from around 1 million tons in 2000 to more than 19 million tons in the first eight months of 2012, making it the second highest volume coal port in the United States," the EIA said.
“Among the top export facilities, only New Orleans and Seattle primarily export steam coal. While the majority of US exports are met coal, growing steam coal demand is fueling 2012 exports to an expected all-time high. High natural gas prices in Europe have contributed to increased imports of US steam coal.”
The agency said during the first eight months of this year, Europe purchased about 42mt from the US, which was about an equal split between thermal and met coal. Asia took 23Mt, about 75% of which was met tonnage.
Assuming knowledge of geography, one may inquire why the east coast ports had more Asian shipments than their west coast counterparts. The answer, according to the EIA, is product proximity as well as logistics.
"One reason eastern seaports are the primary origin of US coal exports to Asia is their proximity to [the nation’s] metallurgical coal mines, concentrated in the eastern United States," officials said.
“The unavailability of significant capacity limits exports from the western United States, the country's largest coal producing region, although the Seattle customs district has seen rapid growth over the past several years exporting steam coal via rail to Canada, where it is then shipped to Asia.”