US coal exports fall 20% in 2019

EIA's annual coal report notes falling thermal coal demand offset somewhat by new markets

Staff Reporter
Us coal exports dropped 20% in 2019

Us coal exports dropped 20% in 2019

Steam and metallurgical coal exports fell 93 million short tons as steam coal exports suffered under the ongoing downturn in global coal demand, dropping 30% year-on-year in 2019, while metallurgical coal had a more moderate decline of 12%.

Although steam coal is mined across the US, most domestic thermal coal comes from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, which produced about 44% of all US coal in 2019. US metallurgical coal mainly originates in the Appalachians.

In 2019, India, Japan, the Netherlands, Brazil and South Korea were the top five destinations for US coal exports, accounting for about 53% of all coal exports, report contributor Bonnie West said.

Last year, about 75% of India's electric power was generated by burning coal, 85% of which was covered by domestic production and the rest by imports. India received 8.1Mt of steam coal from the US, making it the largest destination for US shipments for the third consecutive year. Total coal exports to India in 2019 were 12.8Mt.

Japan's coal consumption is almost evenly split between steam and metallurgical coal. Japan's imports of US coal remained steady at 2018 levels of about 11Mt despite the country's overall steel production falling almost 5%.

The Netherlands was the third-largest destination for US coal exports at 10Mt, despite not all the coal shipped to the Netherlands remained there. The Netherlands serves as the primary transhipment hub for the rest of the European Union, and in 2019, most of the country's imports of coal from the US were shipped to Germany.

Only 30% stayed in the Netherlands for domestic consumption. Germany imported about 40Mt of coal in 2019, and 1.8Mt came directly from the US.

Brazil was the largest US metallurgical coal destination in 2019, importing 6.6Mt.

South Korea was the third-largest importer of US steam coal in 2019, importing 4.7Mt, down from 6.4Mt in 2018. The EIA expects South Korea's imports of US steam coal to likely fall further in 2020 as the country undergoes a series of organised short-term coal-fired plant shutdowns to improve air quality.

Despite the drop in exports to some of the largest US customers, growth in smaller electricity markets increased in 2019. For example, US steam coal exports to Egypt increased by 28% during 2019, mainly for cement production.


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