Coal prices are booming but US miners struggle to boost output

Credit: Xcoal Energy & Resources

A labor shortage and reluctance to open new mines has left U.S. coal companies struggling to keep up with surging global demand.

“It’s very difficult for the coal industry to increase production,” Xcoal Energy & Resources LLC Chief Executive Officer Ernie Thrasher said Monday in a phone interview. “Everyone is working within the limits they have.”

Coal prices are booming around the globe as a global recovery from the economic impacts of the pandemic drives up demand for power. Prices for coal in China are up 40% this month. In Europe, they’ve almost tripled since the start of the year.

As demand surges, some of Xcoal’s current deliveries running two to four weeks late. Thrasher, however, said the disruptions are “nothing out of the ordinary” and represent less than 5% of the company’s total shipments. The closely held coal miner hasn’t declared force majeure for any contracted shipment, he said.

While high prices are good for producers, Thrasher doesn’t know how long that’ll last — making strategic planning difficult. The Latrobe, Pennsylvania-based company expects to deliver about 16 million tons this year. Xcoal produces coal for power plants and steel companies, and demand for both is booming.

“I’m glad coal is still supplying energy to people who need it,” Thrasher said.

(By Will Wade)

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