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EIA: 2019 US coal production falls to lowest level since 1978

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World Coal,

In 2019, US coal production totalled 706 million t, a 7% decrease from the 756 million t mined in 2018. Last year’s production was the lowest amount of coal produced in the US since 1978, when a coal miners’ strike halted most of the country’s coal production from December 1977 - March 1978. Weekly coal production estimates from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) show the US is on pace for an even larger decline in 2020, falling to production levels comparable with those in the 1960s.

Wyoming produces more coal than any other state, representing 39% of US coal production in 2019, at 277 million t, which is 9% lower than its coal production in 2018.

Coal production in West Virginia, the state with the second-highest coal output, fell by a relatively smaller 2% in 2019. West Virginia is a primary producer of metallurgical coal, which saw sustained demand for exports in 2019.

Coal production recently stopped in two states: Kansas in 2017 and Arkansas in 2018. Arizona stopped producing coal in the autumn of 2019 when the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station and adjacent Kayenta coal mine that supplied it both closed.

EIA estimates weekly coal production using coal railcar loadings. In 2020, weekly coal railcar loadings have been trending much lower than 2019 levels, and most recent year-to-date coal railcar loadings were down 27% compared with 2019.

The decline of US coal production so far in 2020 reflects less demand for coal internationally and less generation from US coal-fired power plants. US coal exports through May 2020 are 29% lower than during the first five months of 2019. US coal-fired generation fell to a 42-year low in 2019, decreasing nearly 16% from the previous year and has fallen another 34% through May 2020.

Estimated US coal production through mid-July 2020 is 27% lower than the average annual 2019 output, and EIA expects these reductions in production to persist during the remainder of the year. In the latest ‘Short-Term Energy Outlook’, EIA forecasts a 29% decline in US coal production in 2020.

EIA forecasts that US coal production will increase by 7% in 2021, when rising natural gas prices may cause some coal-fired electric power plants to become more economical to dispatch. Much of EIA’s projected recovery in coal production is in the western US.

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