By T.L. HEADLEY, MBA, MAT, MA, BA
terryFor the West Virginia Coal Association
CHARLESTON — According to the latest report from the Energy Information Agency (EIA), coal production in the United States rose by 1.7 million tons for the week ending January 31, compared to the same time last year. Production for the week stood at 20.10 million tons compared to 18.40 million tons for the last week of January, 2014.  For the 52-week period ending January 31, production was also up slightly, to 997.13 million tons from 982.24 million tons last year.
This increase was reflected in the number of rail car loadings, which saw an increase of 10.5% for the week over the same period last year. Rail car loadings were up 3.7% for the previous 52 weeks.
Metallurgical coal exports for the month of December (the most recent data available) dropped by 5.2% from a year ago to stand at 4.8 million tons. Steam coal, also continued its slide during the month of December, down 50.3% from a year ago to 2.2 million tons. Both metallurgical and steam coal exports remain down compared to last year. Metallurgical coal is off 4.0% at 63.05 million tons while steam coal is off 33.7% at 33.95 million tons shipped.
Imports fell in December – down 28.5% — 548,000 tons. However, coal imports for the previous 52 weeks remain up – by 27% to 11.3 million tons.
Electric output was also off – down 9.1% for the week ending January 31 – and is down slightly (-2.8%) for the year. Steel output fell the week ending January 31 – down 2.3 percent to 1.8 million tons – but continues to trend up slightly for the year at 8.1 million tons produced compared to 8.0 million tons last year.
Looking at regional coal production, Appalachian coal production was up slightly for the week – to 5.5 million tons from 5.4 million tons last week. Meanwhile, Interior Basin production was also up slightly to 3.8 million tons from 3.7 million tons last week. Western production also finished up slightly for the week, to 10.8 million tons from 10.7 million tons last week.
Regional production for the three primary production basins for the previous 52 weeks ending January 31 also saw slight increases. For the period, Appalachia production was up slightly by 0.2% to 270.32 million tons, up from 269.89 million tons in 2013. Interior Basin production was also up for the period — by 2.5%, to 187.4 from 182.29 million tons last year. Meanwhile, Western production was up 1.9%, to 539.41 million tons from 529.51 million tons in 2013.
Due to the decision by the EIA to cease publication of state-by-state weekly production figures, we will not be providing that data until a replacement source can be identified. We can, however, provide West Virginia data.
According to the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, coal production for 2014 (reported through January 29, 2015) currently stands at 119.79 million tons, of which 90.33 million tons was produced underground and 29.46 million tons was produced via surface mining. There are currently 97 mines reporting production in the state. Direct mining employment currently stands at 18,199 miners, with 14,101 working primarily underground and another 4,098 working on surface operations in the state. The state is on pace to finish the year slightly ahead of last year’s production totals.
Coal prices on the spot market were unchanged this week. Central Appalachian coal held steady at $53.06 per ton. Northern Appalachian coal also held steady in price at $63.15 per ton. Illinois Basin coal prices remained at $45.732 per ton. Likewise, Powder River Basin and Uinta Basin coal prices remained steady – at $11.55 and $38.13 per ton respectively.
Natural gas prices finished the week slightly lower on the Henry Hub at approximately $2.95 per million Btu. Natural gas producers reported significant declines in their stored reserves – off 69 billion cubic feet compared to last month, with rig counts holding essentially steady at about 380 compared to a high of 1600 in late 2008.
Utilities reported that for the month of November, they held an average of 76 days worth of bituminous coal in stockpiles along with 51 days of sub-bituminous.

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