coal exports

INSIDE ENERGY: Wyoming Governor Offers Coal Country Tour

Oct 8, 2014
Michael Werner

Treaty fishing rights give Northwest tribes extra clout when it comes to the future of proposed coal terminals on the Columbia River and Puget Sound.

That’s not lost on the governor of Wyoming, a big proponent of coal exports.

Gov. Matt Mead is inviting Northwest tribal leaders on an all-expenses-paid trip to coal country in Northeastern Wyoming, according to an email obtained by EarthFix.

Ambre Energy

Wyoming’s largest coal company is selling its stake in a Montana mine for less than its original asking price. In a deal announced Thursday, Cloud Peak will give up its 50 percent ownership of the Decker coal mine in exchange for Ambre Energy taking on $67 million in reclamation and lease bonding. The deal also promises Cloud Peak capacity at Ambre Energy’s proposed Millennium Bulk coal export terminal in Washington state.

Totororo.roro via Flickr Creative Commons

The Port of Vancouver approved plans Thursday to build a nearly $14 million-dollar terminal to ship coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming to Asian markets.

The decision came just days after state regulators in Oregon rejected a proposal for such a terminal amid opposition from fisherman and environmentalists.

Coal producers in the Powder River Basin have been looking to sell more coal to Asia, but these ambitions have been restricted by limited port capacity on the West Coast.

The latest proposal for getting coal from the Powder River Basin to world markets involves a port on the west coast of Mexico. According to a report from SNL Financial, a Mexican company is in the process of securing permits for a $700 million export terminal. MEXPORT’s CEO Daniel Suarez told SNL there’s been interest from Powder River Basin coal producers, and if the company is able to raise sufficient capital, it could start exporting by 2017. The company's consultant didn't return calls for comment.

Increasing volumes of coal and oil being shipped to the Pacific Northwest are putting pressure on rail capacity in the region, according a new report from the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

Port facilities that would export Powder River Basin coal through the Pacific Northwest are continuing to move towards construction.

In separate decisions this week, Washington and Oregon both announced progress on permitting for coal export terminals in their respective states.

A new report by the Government Accountability Office says the Bureau of Land Management’s coal lease valuation program is ‘out of date.’ The report says BLM offices around the country are not consistent in the way they calculate fair market value, don't always document the rationale behind accepting low bids and do not use independent reviewers to ensure calculations are correct.

It also says the BLM does not properly consider the export potential of coal when calculating fair market value of coal leases.

Another proposed coal export terminal has folded. Ambre Energy is asking to be let out of a lease agreement with the Port of Corpus Christi, saying that shipping Powder River Basin coal out of Texas is no longer viable.

The company had planned to ship 1.5 - 2.5 million tons of coal out of the facility every year. Its decision to pull out is latest in a string of roughly half a dozen planned terminals that have been tabled or scrapped in the last year.

Governor Matt Mead says there’s no question that Taiwan and South Korea want Wyoming coal. Mead just returned from a trip to those countries where he met with government leaders, trona industry representatives, and attended events promoting tourism in Wyoming. He says exporting Wyoming coal is still a good idea.  

Duncan Harris / Creative Commons

An unfolding court case might change how Powder River Basin coal is taxed in Montana. Last week, a Montana district court heard oral arguments in a lawsuit pitting Cloud Peak Energy against the state.

The state is asking for $3.4 million in back taxes, arguing that Cloud Peak underpaid between 2005 and 2007 by selling to an affiliated company at below-market value.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and Whatcom County have announced that their joint Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed coal export facility in Washington State will include a broad analysis. The proposed Cherry Point terminal would be able to export 48 million tons of coal each year, mostly of Powder River Basin coal going to Asia.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration released its “Today in Energy” brief today, which details, among other things, coal exports from the U.S. According to the report, March had the highest number of coal exports yet. The top importing countries were China, the Netherlands, the UK, South Korea, and Brazil. The top five ports were all in the southern and eastern United States. Those ports exported over two and half times more coal in March alone than the Northwest ports did for all of 2012. Powder River Basin coal mostly ships from the Northwest.

The Sierra Club and partner organizations filed a lawsuit today against BNSF Railways and several coal producers. The suit claims the companies are violating the federal Clean Water Act when they discharge coal dust along railways from the Powder River Basin without permits to do so.

Pacific Northwest Regional Press Secretary for Sierra Club’ Beyond Coal campaign, Krista Collard, says a letter of intent to file the suit was sent to all parties two months ago, but they did little to limit coal dust pollution.

As demand for coal has dropped domestically, producers have turned to exports abroad as a way to make up for market losses at home. 2012 was a record year for coal exports out of the US.

The demand for coal in China and other Asian markets, has raised hopes for coal producers in the Powder River Basin. They’ve helped develop plans for expanded port facilities in the Northwestern US and some coal companies, including Arch Coal, have invested money in the proposed ports.

Gov. Mead releases WY energy policy

May 13, 2013

Governor Matt Mead and his policy director, Shawn Reese, released an energy policy for Wyoming at a press conference today. The policy contains 47 initiatives broken down into categories including economic competitiveness and expansion, regulation, conservation, and education. Reese said there were a number of hallmark initiatives.

DOI to investigate coal sales to overseas markets

Feb 11, 2013

The US Department of the Interior has assembled a task force and an action plan to investigate coal exports. The move comes after a letter from US Senators Wyden, of Oregon, and Murkowski, of Alaska, asked the agency to find out whether coal companies are properly reporting their sales. Increasingly, Wyoming’s coal producers are examining markets overseas to make up for a slump in domestic sales. Companies can fetch significantly higher prices for coal in Asian markets, and by selling through an affiliated intermediary, they could report the initial sale instead of the higher, final sale.

Coal industry roundtable brings optimism to industry

Dec 17, 2012

A coal industry roundtable discussion left some people feeling more optimistic about Wyoming coal industry than they had been before. During last Thursday’s meeting – called “Powder River Basin Coal: Domestic Challenges and International Opportunities” – presenters discussed everything from new regulations, to growing exports, and domestic issues. Tim Considine of UW’s Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy helped organize the event. He says he was surprised by some of what he heard.

Coal exports going abroad increasing

Dec 7, 2012

This year’s U.S. coal shipments went up about 24% from 2011 export numbers – and that’s only as of October. Exports still make up a relatively small percentage of total production, but with domestic use going down and world-wide demand going up, coal producers in places like Wyoming are looking to foreign markets to keep sales steady. For now, though, ports capable of handling truly large coal shipments are just in the planning stages. And Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy director, Tim Considine, says foreign sales won’t solve all of the industry’s problems.

Wyoming Lawmaker excited about China as a market for coal

Jun 13, 2012

A Wyoming Republican legislator is optimistic following his return from a coal-energy conference in China.  Governor Matt Mead and a delegation of state officials, specialists, and students, learned about what the governor’s office calls “greener” mining technologies, and new ways to use coal. 

Gillette Representative Tom Lubnau  says the conference was also an opportunity for Wyoming government officials to interface with their Chinese counterparts about the possibility of China importing Wyoming’s coal.

       Wyoming Governor Matt Mead and a delegation of state officials will tout Wyoming’s coal and abundant energy resources in China this week.  The group is attending the 2012 International advanced Coal Technologies Conference.  Governor Mead says this could turn out to be an important trip.

“This is a big enough issue, that is coal and energy to Wyoming, that collectively we all need to see what others have done and see if we can take back some good ideas.”

There are more new ports designed for coal export being proposed in the U.S. and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin coal producers are training their eye on the developments. With some of the most efficient economies of scale in the world, a larger percentage of PRB coal could be making its way across the ocean soon. What would that mean for Wyoming and the global community? Irina Zhorov reports.