Coal Industry Hums Along One Year After It Was Declared ‘Dead’

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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The New York Times ran an op-ed in 2016 titled “The Coal Industry Isn’t Coming Back.” Flash forward one year, coal exports are up nearly 70 percent and mines are extracting 54 million more tons of it, according to government statistics.

Coal has increasingly lost market share to natural gas and green energy sources, mainly solar and wind, in the past few years. New drilling techniques made natural gas a more attractive option as federal regulations on coal power plants mounted.

Aside from NYT, Business Insider reported the coal industry was “dying” because it wasn’t the dominant source of electricity production in 2016. The Guardian also reported on “[t]he death of US coal,” noting the swath of coal company bankruptcies last year.

But 2017 has been a resurgent year for coal.

Americans exported 28 million tons, 68 percent, more coal in the first three quarters of 2017 than during the same period in 2016, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported. In those months, companies have exported 14 percent more than in all of 2016.

“They don’t show any signs of slowing down,” Joe Aldina, an energy analyst at S&P Global, told E&E News. “There is a lot of interest from abroad in buying U.S. coal.”

Exports to India are up 174 percent from the first 10 months of 2016, and the Netherlands has boosted purchases as well. U.S. metallurgical coal used in steel production has been a big driver of sales abroad.

President Donald Trump made scaling back the regulatory burden on the coal industry a major focus of his campaign, and nearly one year into his presidency, there are some good signs.

EIA expects coal production to dip in 2018 on lower international demand and no growth in power generation, but the agency also sees coal production rising again in the latter half of the year.

Coal is also expected to provide about 30 percent of U.S. electricity generation over the next couple of years, according to EIA. While it’s no boom, it’s a far cry from a “death” that many media pundits and energy experts warned about.

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