About 75% of US coal exports were shipped to Europe and Asia in 2012, continuing the growth of the past few years with exports this year expected to reach an all-time high, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Despite growing demand in Asia, the US exports slightly more coal to Europe than it sends the rest of the world combined. US coal exports to Europe are primarily serviced out of the East Coast via Norfolk, Virginia (the largest coal export facility in the US) and Baltimore, Maryland (the third largest). Exports to Asia originate mostly from the East Coast as well, primarily out of Baltimore. Somewhat counterintuitively, most coal out of Baltimore – almost double the port’s European volume – is destined for Asia, the world's largest coal consuming region.
One reason eastern seaports are the primary origin of US coal exports to Asia is their proximity to the US’s metallurgical coal mines, concentrated in the eastern US. While US exports to Europe are closely split between metallurgical and thermal coal, Asia primarily imports metallurgical coal for steelmaking. The unavailability of significant capacity limits exports from the western US, the country’s largest coal producing region. However, the Seattle customs district has seen rapid growth over the past several years exporting thermal coal via rail to Canada, where it is then shipped to Asia.
US coal exports are largely concentrated in a few facilities, with the leading seven ports accounting for 94% of US exports. Norfolk, the largest coal port, shipped almost 35 million short t of coal from January through August 2012 (the latest trade data available), accounting for nearly 40% of total US exports. With access to barge shipments down the Mississippi river, exports out of New Orleans have grown from around 1 million short t in 2000 to more than 19 million short t in the first eight months of 2012, making it the second highest volume coal port in the US. Among the top export facilities, only New Orleans and Seattle primarily export thermal coal. While the majority of US exports are metallurgical coal, growing thermal coal demand is fuelling 2012 exports to an expected all-time high. High natural gas prices in Europe have contributed to increased imports of US thermal coal.
Adapted from press release by Lauren Bryant.
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