March US coal exports set record: EIA

THE US Energy Information Administration is projecting a third straight year of exports exceeding 100 million tons after the nation set a new monthly record in March.
March US coal exports set record: EIA March US coal exports set record: EIA March US coal exports set record: EIA March US coal exports set record: EIA March US coal exports set record: EIA

Courtesy EIA

Donna Schmidt

Coal exports from the US for the month of March were 13.6Mt – nearly 900,000 tons over a prior peak figure last June.

As a result, officials said 2013 could be yet another year for export levels over the 100Mt mark, following annual exports of 107.3Mt in 2011 and record annual exports of 125.7Mt last year.

Confirming what many had speculated, the agency said that increased Asian demand for coal played a large role in March’s record total, which was made up of 6.3Mt steam coal and 7.4Mt metallurgical coal.

Five of the nation’s customs districts made up 90% of the coal exported from the US during the month, the EIA’s most recent available group of data. They were Norfolk, Virginia; New Orleans, Louisiana; Baltimore, Maryland; Mobile, Alabama; and Houston-Galveston, Texas.

“Each of these customs districts is located on the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico, and each has access to world-class coal loading infrastructure,” officials said, adding that the top five destinations of exported coal during the same time period were China, Netherlands, the United Kingdom, South Korea and Brazil (in descending order).

The news could be interpreted as another notable positive turn for a struggling US coal market. In late May the agency said coal had generated 40% or more of the nation’s electricity share every month since November while natural gas shrank to 25%.

The figures for March are a big shift from April last year, when the agency reported an equal share of coal and natural gas generation.

In the spring shoulder season – the area of time between winter and summer when electricity demand normally drops – this year natural gas price increases reduced its share of the total generation pie below last April’s record highs.

The EIA noted that while coal’s share was up it was still well below its typical range of pre-2009 levels.

Between 2001 and 2008, the coal share on an annual basis was between 48% and 51%.

The last time coal achieved a 50% share was in 2005, although the agency’s short-term energy report projects it will hit 40% this year.

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