American coal is produced in 24 states and exported to a total of 76 countries. Exports flow in every direction – from Atlantic and Pacific Ocean ports, the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes.
Metallurgical coal is exported for use in making steel. Steam coal is exported for use in generating electricity.
In 2016, Norfolk, VA, was the largest exporting customs district, shipping approximately 23 million tons of coal, followed by Baltimore and Mobile, with 14.4 million tons and 7 million tons respectively.
The leading export markets for U.S. coal in 2016 were Europe (27.4 million tons) and Asia (15.7 million tons), followed by North America (2.36 million tons) and South America (7.4 million tons.)
U.S. coal producers generally have higher costs than other net exporting countries and as a result are more adversely affected by lower coal prices. They are also at a further competitive disadvantage due to the strong U.S. dollar compared with the depreciating currencies of other exporting countries.
The U.S. has the capacity to export an estimated 200 million tons of coal through existing terminals (including Baltimore, MD; Norfolk, VA; Mobile, AL; New Orleans, LA; Houston, TX). This capacity could increase significantly through the expansion of existing port and terminal facilities on the West coast and in the Northwest and provide a better export conduit for Asia-Pacific markets, however these facilities are hindered by significant political and regulatory headwinds (Longview and Cherry Point, WA; Oakland, CA.)
Powder River Basin (WY and MT) Coal Export Metrics:
Demand for Powder River Basin (PRB) coal exports has grown in recent years due to the region’s abundant resources and low-cost mining operations. At present, much of the exported coal from this region travels through the Seattle customs district and into Canada to be exported through facilities located in Vancouver and Ridley, B.C. (about 1.1 million tons, valued at nearly $78 million.)
A 2012 report from The Energy Policy Research Foundation estimated the economic value of PRB exports of 50 to 100 million tons to be more than $2 billion dollars annually.
Growth in PRB coal exports has the potential to result in significantly higher lease values and revenues on federal and state coal reserves.