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Baltimore Port Closure Threatens U.S. Coal Exports

Coal exports from the United States may decline as a result of the suspension of marine traffic from the port of Baltimore following the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, the Energy Information Administration has warned.

"An attractive feature of the Port of Baltimore is its proximity to the northern Appalachia coal fields in western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia," the EIA said.

"Other nearby ports, most notably Hampton Roads, have additional capacity to export coal, although factors including coal quality, pricing, and scheduling will affect how easily companies can switch to exporting from another port," the authority added.

Last year, the port of Baltimore handled about 28% of total U.S. coal exports, a share that rose from less than 25% a year earlier. The average annual volume of coal exports departing from that port over the three of the last five years has been around 20 million short tons, according to the EIA. There was a slump in 2020 because of the lockdowns and last year, the annual total jumped to 28 million short tons driven by stronger demand from Asia.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse has limited the export options for some coal miners, notably the owner of an export terminal at the port of Baltimore, Consol Energy. Following the accident, the terminal has been shut down like the port, leaving Consol Energy with no quick substitute as an export venue.

The port could remain closed for more than a month, Bloomberg reported, adding that one analysis says this could wipe out some 2 million tons in coal exports from Consol Energy’s terminal.

Other coal producers may also find it hard to get their coal abroad with alternative export terminals having limited storage capacity available to keep the coal until the port reopens and traffic normalizes.

By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com


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