Saturday, November 19, 2011

U.S. Coal Exports are Surging and Wyoming Coal is Being Shipped to Asia

As my town of Boulder embarks upon an effort of municipalization of our electricity, which will involve many legal dollars in "negotiations" with Excel, I struggle with the concept because the nearby Wyoming coal which we want to stop using will go to Asia instead, as it is already doing, and burn in dirtier facilities than the ones we have. The goal, of course, of municipalization is to be energy stewards and use clean, renewable energy rather than burning coal to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Whenever I run into activists for municipalization, I ask them how they answer the question about the coal going to Asia if we don't use it, resulting in an even larger carbon footprint. One-hundred percent of the ones I've asked have been unaware of the issue, including an NCAR climate scientist friend.

No issues are simple when one considers all aspects. Here in this case, as usual, the only answer seems to be that we become smaller users or consumers of electricity while increasing energy efficiency if we want to make any real progress. So far here in the U.S., our electrical consumption continues upwards.

Six seaports account for 94% of U.S. coal exports, which are dominated by coking coal:

A recent report from the e.i.a. was noteworthy concerning our coal exports:
  • Over 68% of total U.S. coal exports in 2010 were coking coal, which is used in making iron and steel.
  • Steam coal, used to generate electricity, comprised the remaining 32% of exports.
  • Overall U.S. coal exports have been resurgent, reaching nearly 71 million tons in the first eight months of 2011—the highest level in decades—driven by high global demand and significant weather disruptions of Australian coal exports.
  • Coal exports from Seattle, Washington have also risen sharply in recent years as significant coal production in the Powder River Basin seeks access to growing Asian coal markets.

Also see previous posts:
Update: Friend rjs has also recommended this link, Coal Exports Are Bigger Threat Than Tar Sands Pipeline - A carbon comparison of Northwest coal plans and Keystone XL project.

source: e.i.a.


  1. US coal (from the Powder River Basin and Montana) is also being shipped out of Canadian ports (Vancouver and Prince Rupert) as there is insufficient port capacity in the US Pacific Northwest. Big plans are afoot to increase export capability on both sides of the border, at least as long as China appears to be a willing purchaser!

  2. Yes, this is regrettable. But some of that coking coal comes back to us in raw material to build products.

    I don't know how the numbers fall out. Or if there is any way to crunch them so the above dynamic's effects can be quantified.

    I don't think this particular dynamic is a good 'battle to war' over. I think the best that can be accomplished is that your municipality operates from integrity in it's domain of influence.

    Boulder is to be congratulated.

  3. RBM,
    Good comment. Wanted to let you know that some time back your comments were all going to my spam box and it took me some time to catch it. Good to have you back!

    The article I have linked at the bottom goes into the other ports more too.

  4. Wanted to let you know that some time back your comments were all going to my spam box and it took me some time to catch it. Good to have you back!

    Ahhhh, that's one mystery solved ! Thanks for the notification and welcome back.