US coal production for 2015 off 13% from 2014
According to the latest reports from the US Energy Information Agency (EIA), coal production in the US finished 2015 off approximately 13% from 2014 totals. Meanwhile spot prices for coal continue their long-term decline and natural gas slipped back slightly from recent highs.
According to the EIA’s 2 January 2016 weekly report, US coal production for the year totalled 886.49 million short t, down from 995.47 million short t (a decline of 11.1%). The trend appears to be steepening. According to the EIA’s 22 January report, production was only 13.32 million short t – off from 19.61 million short t for the same week a year ago (off 32%). This is mirrored in the week’s railcar loadings, which was at only 75 308 car loads, off 32.7% from the 111982 car loads. 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 last week 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 November (the most recent data available) were sharply below last year. Metallurgical coal exports are off by 39% from November 2014 and steam coal exports are off by 34%. Imports of coal into the US were down for the month by 12.1%. For the year ending 31 December, metallurgical coal exports were down 24.7% and thermal coal exports were down 21.8% compared to the same period last year. Imports of coal for the year were down 3.8% from 2014.
Electric output was down 3.9% compared to the same week last year, with 79 650 MWh of electricity produced compared to 68 519 MWh produced for the same period last year. Electric production for the year was off 3.9%, which can be attributed at least in part to the mild fall across most of the country.
Domestic steel output, however, was down from the previous week.
According to numbers from the American Iron and Steel Institute, in the week ending January 16, 2016, domestic raw steel production was 1 652 000 net short t, while the capability utilisation rate was 69.1%. Production was 1 807 000 net short t in the week ending 16 January 2015, while the capability utilisation then was 76.4%. The current week production represents a 8.6% decrease from the same period in the previous year. Production for the week ending 16 January 2016 is up 3.6% from the previous week ending 9 January 2016 when production was 1 594 000 net short t and the rate of capability utilisation was 66.7%.
Adjusted year-to-date production through 16 January 2016 was 4 686 000 net short t, at a capability utilisation rate of 65.3%. That is down 13.4% from the 5 412 000 net short t during the same period last year, when the capability utilisation rate was 76.4%.
In terms of regional coal production, all three major basins reported significant losses for the year.
The Appalachian Basin finished the year at 226.72 million short t, down from 267.70 million short t in 2014 (-15.3%). Interior Basin production also finished the year down at 167.92 million short t compared to 188.16 million short t last year (-10.8%). Western production finished the year at 491.85 million short t from 541.55 million short t last week (-9.2%). For the week ending 16 January, production was also down in two of three basins. Appalachian Basin production finished the week at just 3.24 million short t, off from 3.31 million short t last week. The Interior Basin finished the week at 2.50 million short t, off from 2.53 million short t, and the Western Basin finished slightly up at 7.58 million short t from 7.56 million short t.
According to the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training (WVOMHST), coal production in the state now stands at 100.65 million short t through 15 December. Of that total, 82.19 million short t was mined by underground operations and 18.56 million short t was produced by opencast mining. Only 58 mines have reported production in December 2015. 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 grew slightly to 15 774 total miners, with 12 705 working underground and 3069 working on opencast operations. The office does not report data for contract miners or preparation plant workers on a weekly basis. Final reports for 2015 are due by the end of January and will be reflected in February reports.
According to the EIA, West Virginia coal production for the year totalled 97.81 million short t – off from 111.87 million short t. This is off 12.6% from 2014. The EIA always reports lower production than state reports. Meanwhile, West Virginia production finished the week at 1.26 million short t, up slightly from 1.25 million short t the previous week, but off from 1.89 million short t last year.
Production was down in both the northern and southern coalfields of West Virginia compared to last year by 6.7% and 23.2% respectively. For the week, northern West Virginia production finished up at 644 000 short t versus 620 000 short t last week and 892 000 short t last year. Southern West Virginia, however, finished down at 618 000 short t versus 628 000 short t last week and 993 000 short t a year ago.
Coal production in Kentucky ended the year at 63.20 million short t produced, down by 18.1% from the 77.19 million short t from 2014. Eastern Kentucky coal operations finished the year at 29.52 million short t, down by 21.1% to 37.39 million short t. Meanwhile, western Kentucky coal operations finished off by 15.4%, at 33.68 million short t versus 39.39 million short t in 2014.
Wyoming coal production finished the year at 369.10 million short t versus 394.78 million short t in 2014 – off by 8.3%.
Illinois coal production finished 2015 at 59.81 million short t versus 57.96 million short t – up by 3.2% from 2014. Indiana production, however, fell significantly, finishing at 34.71 million short t versus 39.16 million short t the previous year. Ohio production finished 2015 off by 20.9% – at 17.55 million short t versus 22.19 million short t in 2014. Pennsylvania production was down by 16.3% y/y, finishing at 51.63 million short t in 2015 versus 61.66 million short t in 2014. Virginia coal production continued to fall in 2015, finishing the year down 14.5% at 13.21 million short t versus 15.45 million short t in 2014.
Coal prices on the spot market were all down this week, with all basins finishing down for the year. Central Appalachian coal finished the week at US$42.25/short t or US$1.69/million Btu. Northern Appalachian coal also finished down, coming in at US$48.60/short t or US$1.87/million Btu. Illinois Basin coal closed down at US$32.20/short t or US$1.36/million Btu, while Powder River Basin coal fell to US$9.70/short t or US$0.55/million Btu. Uinta Basin coal prices finished at US$39.95/short t or US$1.71/million Btu.
Natural gas prices on the Henry Hub continued to fall back slightly this week to finish at US$2.32/million Btu from US$2.38/million Btu last week and significantly off from US$3.08/million Btu a year ago. Natural gas producers reported a significant decline in their stored reserves – down 168 billion ft3 compared to the previous week, for a total of 3.48 trillion ft3 in storage. This week’s working natural gas rotary rig count is down by 13 from last week to 637 working rigs. And the count remains down by 996 rigs from a year ago – a decline of 36%. This number includes rigs working in both oil and gas plays.
Written By T.L. Headley. Edited by Harleigh Hobbs. This article first appeared in the WV Coal Seam blog of the West Virginia Coal Association.