By T.L. HEADLEY, MBA, MA, BA
For The West Virginia Coal Association
According to the latest report from the Energy Information Agency (EIA), coal production in the United States rose by 1.3 million tons for the week ending December 20, compared to the same time last year. Production for the week stood at 19.8 million tons compared to 18.5 million tons in 2013. Year-to-date, production was also up slightly, to 964.4 million tons from 957.6 million tons in 2013.
This increase was reflected in the number of rail car loadings, which saw an increase of 7.1 percent for the week over the same period last year. Rail car loadings were also up 0.7 percent year-to-date.
Metallurgical coal exports through the end of October (the most recent data available) surged by 5.4 percent from a year ago to stand at 5.7 million tons. Steam coal, however, continued its slide through October, down 49.5 percent from a year ago to just 2.2 million tons. Year-to-date through the end of October, both metallurgical and steam coal exports remain down compared to last year. Metallurgical coal is off 3.8 percent at 53.5 million tons while steam coal is off 33 percent at just 29.1 million tons shipped.
Imports also slipped in October – down 17.1 percent — to just 586,000 tons. However coal imports for the year remain up sharply – up 33.8 percent to 9.8 million tons – over last year.
Electric output was also off – down 2.0 percent for the week ending December 20 – but remains up slightly (0.6 percent) for the year. Steel output surged for the week – up 3.4 percent to 1.85 million tons – and continues to trend up slightly for the year at 93.7 million tons produced compared to 93.0 million tons last year.
Looking at regional coal production, Appalachian coal production was up slightly for the week – to 5.32 million tons from 5.23 million tons last year. Meanwhile, Interior Basin production was down slightly to 3.55 million tons from 3.68 million tons for the week last year. Western production was up slightly this week, to 10.91 million tons from 10.89 million tons for the week in 2013.
Regional production for the three primary production areas for the previous 52 weeks ending December 20, however, reflected the longer term trends of reduced production in the Appalachia countered by increased production in the Interior and Western reserves. For the period, Appalachia production was down slightly by 0.1 percent to 270.7 million tons, off from 271 million tons in 2013. Interior Basin production was up for the period by 2.3 percent, to 186.2 from 182.1 million tons in 2013. Meanwhile, Western production was up 1 percent, to 532.3 million tons from 526.9 in 2013.
Looking at some of the key individual states, coal production in West Virginia ticked up for the week, to 2.21 million tons from 2.18 million tons in 2013. Year-over-year, West Virginia production is up slightly –by 0.2 percent – to 112.96 million tons from 112.68 million tons in 2013. Northern West Virginia production continues to surge – up 8 percent to 45.7 million tons for the year – while Southern West Virginia production continues to trend below last year – off 4.4% to 67.2 million tons for the previous 52 weeks.
Meanwhile, in Illinois production was up slightly for the week compared to 2013, to 1.09 million tons from 1.08 million tons in 2013. Year-over-year, production in Illinois is up by 6.1 percent – to 55.2 million tons from 52.0 million tons in 2013.
In Kentucky, production was up slightly for the week, to 1.64 million tons from 1.62 million tons for the same week a year ago. For the year, Kentucky production was also up slightly, to 80.7 million tons from 80.4 million tons last year. However, like West Virginia, Kentucky state totals do not provide the entire picture, as western Kentucky production is up by 3.8 percent to 42.3 million tons from 40.8 million tons in 2013. Eastern Kentucky production saw a 3.2 percent decline, to 38.3 million tons from 39.7 million tons a year ago.
Wyoming production for the year was up 0.9 percent, to 390.02 million tons from 386.41 million tons in 2013.
Coal prices on the spot market slipped a little this week. Central Appalachian coal held steady at $56.10 per ton. North Appalachian coal also held steady at $65.30 per ton. Illinois Basin coal prices were unchanged as well, at $44.55 per ton. Likewise, Powder River Basin and Uinta Basin coal prices remained unchanged this week – at $11.55 and $37.75 per ton respectively.
Natural gas prices stopped their recent decline, remaining essentially steady on the Henry Hub at approximately $3.50 per million Btu. Natural gas producers reported significant declines in their stored reserves – off 64 billion cubic feet compared to last month.
Utilities did not update their coal stockpile report for the week.