Norfolk, New Orleans top U.S. ports for exporting coal - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Norfolk, New Orleans top U.S. ports for exporting coal

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Norfolk and New Orleans were the two largest U.S. ports for coal exports through August.

Norfolk handled 34.8 million tons of coal for export in the first eight months of the year, according to data released Nov. 15 by the Energy Information Administration. About 23.7 millions tons was metallurgical coal and 11.1 million tons was steam coal. New Orleans handled 19.2 million tons, with 14.7 million tons of that being steam coal.

Europe was the primary market for both ports.

Other leading ports for coal exports were, in order, Baltimore, 14.9 million tons; Mobile, Ala., 7.3 million tons; Seattle, 3.3 million tons; Cleveland, 2 million tons; and Houston-Galveston, 1.6 million tons.

"With access to barge shipments down the Mississippi River, exports out of New Orleans have grown from around one million tons in 2000 to more than 19 million tons in the first eight months of 2012, making it the second highest volume coal port in the United States," the EIA reported. "Among the top export facilities, only New Orleans and Seattle primarily export steam coal. While the majority of U.S. exports are met coal, growing steam coal demand is fueling 2012 exports to an expected all-time high. High natural gas prices in Europe have contributed to increased imports of U.S. steam coal."

Europe purchased about 42 million tons of coal from the U.S. in the first eight months, with about a 50-50 split between steam and met coal. Asia was the second largest market at 23 million tons, with about three-quarters of that being met coal.

Most U.S. coal exports to Asia ship out through ports on the East and Gulf coasts.

"One reason eastern seaports are the primary origin of U.S. coal exports to Asia is their proximity to U.S. metallurgical (met) coal mines, concentrated in the eastern United States," the EIA reported.

"The unavailability of significant capacity limits exports from the western United States, the country's largest coal producing region, although the Seattle customs district has seen rapid growth over the past several years exporting steam coal via rail to Canada, where it is then shipped to Asia."

Efforts are under way in Oregon and Washington state to develop ports to allow coal exports, but they are opposed by a number of groups on environmental grounds.