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US Coal Prices Climb Past $200 as Global Energy Crunch Boosts Demand

US coal prices surged past $200 for the first time as a global energy crunch drives up demand for the dirtiest fossil fuel.

Spot prices for coal from Central Appalachia rose to $204.95 a ton for the week ending September 30, the highest in records dating to 2005, according to data released Monday by the US Energy Information Administration.

Coal remains a leading fuel in US power plants, and the soaring prices will ratchet up pressure on US homes already struggling with record-high electricity bills. About 20 million household across the country -- or about one in six -- have fallen behind on their utility bills, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association.

Coal prices began surging as economies around the world recovered from pandemic lockdowns, driving up demand for electricity faster than coal miners and natural gas producers could boost supply for power plants. That was exacerbated when Russia’s war in Ukraine upended energy markets, and power-plant demand for coal and natural gas has continued to rise amid record summer heat.

Meanwhile, coal producers are running at full-tilt and have little ability to boost output. Even if they could, clogged supply chains mean they would have trouble delivering any additional tons. All of that is putting steady, upward pressure on prices, which have surged to records in the US, Asia and Europe. 

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NMA Launches New Visual Brand Identity Focused on the Future

The National Mining Association (NMA) today launched a new visual brand identity reflective of the innovative and forward-looking role the U.S. mining industry plays in the modern economy.

“The mining industry is essential to the U.S. economy and is at the tip of nearly every supply chain from energy to national security, technology to infrastructure,” said Rich Nolan, president and CEO of the NMA. “As the only national trade association serving as the voice of the U.S. mining industry, we are committed to reflecting the innovative and technology-driven approach of our members and underscoring our commitment to supplying the materials our economy needs.”

The NMA’s updated visual brand identity includes a new logo, typography and primary/secondary colors. The ‘M’ shape of the logo evokes a mountain, represents the entirety of the industry and is stylized to lead viewers to see below the surface, an analogy to the work our industry does. The ‘M’ also delivers new dimensions, focusing on a forward-driving center point that showcases our commitment to the future and the essential role industry plays in technology and innovation.

About NMA

America’s mining industry supplies the essential materials necessary for nearly every sector of our economy – from technology and healthcare to energy, transportation, infrastructure and national security.

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Weekly Production / Consumption Report (Sept 24 / Week 39 Update)

West Virginia coal production decreased week over week by -2.1%.  Production in the Northern Appalachian region of the state declined -1.4% and production in the state’s Central Appalachian region decreased by -2.9% from the previous week.  Compared to the same 39 weeks of 2021, year to date statewide coal production is up +5.9%.  +5.1% in the Northern Appalachian region of the state and +7.1% in the state’s Central Appalachian region. 

National coal production also decreased from the previous week by -2.9%.  Production in the Appalachian coal region decreased -1.9%, the Interior region -2.7% and the Western coal region by -3.3%.  Year to date, U.S. coal production is up +3.8% compared to the same 39 weeks of 2021.  Production in the Appalachian region is up +1.6%, Interior +2.2% and +5.4% in the Western coal region. 

EIA reported spot prices for domestic thermal coal were unchanged week over week.  Compared to the same week of 2021, Central Appalachian thermal coal spot prices are +179.8% higher, Northern Appalachian, +200%, Illinois Basin +442.7%, Powder River Basin, +20.9% and Western Bituminous, +40.6%.  Average U.S. natural gas spot prices declined from the previous week by -19.7%.  Compared to the same week last year, average U.S. natural prices are +16.5% higher. 

According to data reported to the federal Surface Transportation Board by West Virginia’s two class one railroad systems, the average number of unit coal trains holding per day was unchanged from the previous week.  Average coal train speed increased week over week on both systems.   Coal carloadings for the entire Northern Appalachian and Central Appalachian coal regions decreased week over week by -4.7%. 

Barge loadings of West Virginia coal declined from the previous week by -4.9%.

Domestic iron and steel production continued to decline, with weekly output falling -0.6% and furnace capacity utilization decreasing by the same percentage from the previous week.  Compared to the same 39 weeks of 2021, year to date U.S. steel production is off -4% and cumulative furnace capacity utilization is off -1.7%. 

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Why Are the Feds Not Disclosing Anything About Utah Mine Fire?

Utah’s busiest coal mine remained out of production Friday, 10 days after a fire broke out underground, prompting an emergency response by federal authorities.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), meanwhile, remained mum on what’s happening at the Lila Canyon coal mine, declining to release any information on the nature of the mishap, how it was triggered, what is being done to contain the damage or whether public safety and the environment are at risk.

The mine’s operator, Emery County Coal Resources, Inc., received emergency permission from state regulators this week to drill three boreholes into the mine to take air samples, but it remained unclear whether those holes were successfully drilled.

The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, or DOGM, reported on Sept. 22 that the mine had caught fire two days earlier. All the employees were evacuated safely with no injuries and the MSHA set up a command post at the mine, located in Emery County’s wing of the Book Cliffs, according to DOGM spokeswoman Hollie Brown.

While DOGM holds jurisdiction over most aspects of coal mining, accidents fall under MSHA’s purview, so Brown has not been able to release any additional information and she referred queries to her federal counterparts.

Contacted repeatedly in the days since the fire broke out, however, MSHA has refused to provide any meaningful information. The agency’s most recent statement failed to even confirm whether a fire was involved, despite the obvious dark smoke plume that rose last week from the mine’s opening.

“MSHA continues to work with the company and the state to address the issue,” said an email in its entirety, sent from a spokesperson with the Department of Labor, MSHA’s parent agency.

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Our Energy Trilemma

By Steve Winberg

Chairman & CEO, Net-Negative CO2 Baseloead Power, Inc.

Steve Winberg

The United States and much of Europe is faced with an energy trilemma.  We all understand a dilemma.  Pick choice A and suffer the consequences of not picking choice B.  A trilemma offers three choices.  In this trilemma, the choices are affordable, reliable, or clean energy, all of which are essential to our future.  Yet, as a country, we continue to adopt policies heavily skewed toward a narrow definition of clean energy.  In the process, the reliability and affordability of energy is being unnecessarily compromised.  With 21st century technology, all energy sources can be clean and maintaining energy diversity reduces cost and increases national energy security and energy system reliability.

Biden’s policy targets are zero greenhouse gas emissions from electricity by 2035 and zero economy-wide by 2050.  These targets are being pursued with policies which, in the average American’s lifetime, will result in the complete elimination of coal and virtual elimination of diesel, gasoline and natural gas.  Natural gas-fired water heaters and furnaces would need to be stripped from homes, gasoline and diesel consuming cars, trucks, trains, airplanes and ships would be largely eliminated; and industry would be forced to all-electric or hydrogen energy.  Quite a tall order, by any measure.  Simply stated, continuing down this policy path will not achieve either of the Biden targets.  What we will achieve is high-cost energy, increasingly unreliable electricity production, loss of energy security and loss of U.S. manufacturing.  China, India, Asia and Africa will continue to use fossil energy and graciously sell us what we can no longer afford to manufacture in the U.S., including solar panels, electric vehicle batteries and windmill parts.

Of course, we need only look to our allies across the Atlantic to understand the impacts of a headlong rush to “green” energy.  High energy prices, potential energy rationing and, at least for the short-term, a return to reliable, but aging coal and nuclear plants.  Yes, a return to coal.  Even Germany is restarting coal plants.  It’s convenient to point the finger at Putin, and much blame lies with him, but much blame also lies with decades of bad European energy policy.  And the Biden Administration is leading us in the same bad direction.

However, it isn’t just bad policy that complicates the trilemma.  Numerous environmental groups have kept up a steady drumbeat against fossil energy and it has paid off.  They have done a magnificent job!  Wall Street, the insurance industry and shareholders have taken up the drumbeat and it is having a profound impact on energy company boards.  Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) has become the new business fixation, although few can define it.  But, not-to-worry, the green-leaning SEC’s Climate and ESG Task Force will define it for us and, then, all will be well.  Meanwhile, the fossil energy industry lives in three camps.  Camp DenyIt, Camp IgnoreIt and Camp FixIt.  Camp DenyIt is mostly abandoned but there are a few stalwarts attempting to make a last stand.  Camp IgnoreIt is still well populated.  Unfortunately, Camp FixI

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