Don’t expect US miners to replace Russian coal in Europe

Credit: Peabody

U.S. coal miners including Peabody Energy Corp. are surging as the European Union proposes banning imports of the fuel from Russia. But it will be difficult, if not impossible, for them to fill the potential supply gap.  

The long-term prospects for the dirtiest fossil fuel are grim as concerns about climate change intensify, and miners have had little incentive to invest in new capacity. In the U.S., the number of producing coal mines slumped more than 60% from 2008 through 2020. The nation’s remaining miners have already sold most of their output under long-term contracts and have few spare tons to deliver.

Those issues have been exacerbated by tight labor markets, while supply-chain bottlenecks would make it difficult to deliver additional tons to export terminals, said Ernie Thrasher, chief executive officer of Xcoal Energy & Resources LLC., the biggest U.S. exporter. 

“I don’t see any ability for the industry to expand production,” he said. “It’s like looking at a sweet dessert that you just can’t reach.”

Russia supplied about 18% of global coal exports in 2020, with Europe as the largest buyer. Prices in the U.S. have been soaring, surpassing $100 a ton last week for the first time in 13 years.

Peabody, the biggest U.S. coal producer, jumped as much as 14% Tuesday, the most intraday in two weeks. Arch, the second-biggest miner, climbed as much as 7.5%, while Consol Energy Inc. gained as much as 12% as prices spiked in Europe.

(By Will Wade)

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