U.S. Coal Production Off 38 Percent from 2015

Weekly Coal Production & Price Report (March 31, 2016)

Coal Commodity Region/Fuel Avg. BTU SO2 Price Price/mmBTU
Central Appalachia 12,500 1.2  $      42.25  $               1.69
Northern Appalachia 13,000 3  $      48.60  $               1.87
Illinois Basin 11,800 5  $      32.20  $               1.36
Powder River Basin 8,800 0.8  $        9.45  $               0.54
Uinta Basin 11,700 0.8  $      38.05  $               1.63
Natural Gas (Henry Hub)

n/a

0.01

n/a

 $               1.79

By T.L. HEADLEY, MBA, MA

CHARLESTON – According to the latest reports from the Energy Information Agency (EIA), coal production in the U.S. continues to slide, finishing the week off by 38 percent from 2015 totals. Meanwhile spot prices for coal continue to hold steady as they have for the past month. Natural gas spot prices, however, continue to slide.

According to the EIA’s April 1, 2016 weekly report, U.S. coal production for the week totaled just 11.60 million tons, down from 18.84 million tons for the same week in 2015. Year to date production totaled just 157.27 million tons, down from 227.45 million tons (down 30.9 percent). And for the previous 52 weeks, production was off by 17.4 percent, down from 819.97 million tons from 992.90 million tons in 2015.

The decline in coal production was reflected in rail car loadings, which were off 37.8 percent from for the week to just 66,281. This decline in rail traffic is almost entirely due to the decline in coal production and has resulted in both major eastern rail systems announcing major restructurings. CSX recently announced it is closing its regional headquarters in Huntington, West Virginia. Norfolk Southern likewise announced it is closing the Bluefield, West Virginia offices.

Coal exports for the month of January (the most recent data available) were sharply below last year. Metallurgical coal exports are off by 38.5 percent from January 2015 and steam coal exports are off by 54 percent. Imports of coal into the U.S were down for the month by 46.4 percent.

Electric output was down 4.6 percent compared to the same week last year, with 67,690 MWH of electricity produced compared to 70,933 MWH produced for the same period last year.

Domestic steel output was up was up from the previous week.

According to numbers from the American Iron and Steel Institute, in the week ending March 26, 2016, domestic raw steel production was 1.68 million net tons while the capability utilization rate was 71.6 percent. Production was 1.60 million net tons in the week ending March 26, 2015 while the capability utilization then was 67.7 percent. The current week production represents a 4.6 percent increase from the same period in the previous year. Production for the week ending March 26, 2016 is up 0.4 percent from the previous week ending March 19, 2016 when production was 1.69 million net tons and the rate of capability utilization was 71.3 percent.

Adjusted year-to-date domestic raw steel production through March 26, 2016 was 21.5 million net tons, at a capability utilization rate of 70.3 percent. That is down 3.4 percent from the 22.3 million net tons during the same period last year, when the capability utilization rate was 72.1 percent.

In terms of regional coal production, all three major basins report significant decreases from 2015.

The Appalachian Basin finished the week at 2.81 million tons, down from 4.83 million tons in 2014 (-42 percent). Interior Basin production also finished the week down, at 2.19 million tons compared to 3.51 million tons last year (-38 percent). Western production finished the week at 6.60 million tons from 10.30 million tons last week (-36 percent).  All three basins remain down significantly for the previous 52 weeks, with the Appalachian Basin off 23.1 percent, the Interior Basin off 17.3 percent and the Western Basin off 14.7 percent.

According to the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training, coal production in the state stands at 11.66 million tons through March 24th. Of that total, 9.66 million tons was mined by underground operations and 2.01 million tons was produced by surface mining. Only 62 mines have reported production in December2015. Several large operations have idled production due to financial restructuring or in response to slack demand.

However, according to WVOMHST, coal mining employment in West Virginia has fallen sharply to just 11,907 total active miners, with 9,782 working underground and 2,125 working on surface operations. The office does not report data for contract miners or preparation plant workers on a weekly basis.

According to EIA, West Virginia coal production for the week totaled 1.23 million tons, off from 2.11 million tons for the same week in 2015 – down 42 percent.

Production was down in both the northern and southern coalfields of West Virginia compared to the same week in 2015 by 39 percent and 45 percent respectively. For the week, northern West Virginia production finished up at 628,000 tons versus 617,000 tons last week and 1.03 million tons last year. Southern West Virginia, however, finished down at 601,000 tons versus 588,000 tons last week and 1.07 million tons a year ago.

Coal production in Kentucky ended the week at 774,000 tons produced, down from the 1.31 million tons from 2015. Eastern Kentucky coal operations finished the year at 344,000 tons, down from 596,000 tons. Meanwhile, western Kentucky coal operations finished at 431,000 tons versus 710,000 tons in 2015.

Wyoming coal production finished the week at 4.92 million tons versus 7.73 million tons in 2015, off by 36 percent.

Illinois coal production finished the week at 839,000 tons versus 1.3 million tons for the same week in 2015.  Indiana production, however, fell significantly, finishing at 461,000 tons versus 734,000 tons for the month a year ago. Ohio production finished the week at 205,000 tons versus 398,000 tons for the week in 2015. Pennsylvania production was down, finishing the week at 634,000 tons versus 1.1 million tons in 2014. Virginia coal production continues to tall, finishing the year down at 140,000 tons versus 286,000 tons for the year in 2015.

Coal prices on the spot market were unchanged this week. Central Appalachian coal finished the week at $42.25 per ton or $1.69 per mmBtu. Northern Appalachian coal also finished unchanged, coming in at $48.60 per ton or $1.87 per mmBtu. Illinois Basin coal held steady at $32.20 per ton or $1.36 per mmBtu, while Powder River Basin coal remained at $9.45 per ton or $0.55 per mmBtu. Uinta Basin coal prices finished unchanged at $38.05 per ton or $1.63 per mmBtu.

Natural gas prices on the Henry Hub also held steady this week to finish at $1.79 per mmBtu. Natural gas producers reported a significant decline in their stored reserves – at 2.47 trillion cubic feet, down by 25 billion cubic feet compared to the previous week, for a total of 3.48 trillion cubic feet in storage. This week’s working natural gas rotary rig count is down by 12 from last week to 464 working rigs. And the count remains down by 584 rigs from a year ago – a decline of 21%. This number includes rigs working in both oil and gas plays.

About the Author: T.L. Headley is a veteran public relations expert and former journalist with more than 20 years in mass communications with a focus on energy. Headley has an MBA in finance and management and an MA in journalism. He is the principal for Genesis Communications and is a public relations consultant for several major coal and energy organizations in West Virginia. Headley is also a 2001 graduate of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership West Virginia program.

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