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EIA: Coal exports falling from 2012’s record

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MORGANTOWN, WV -

The U.S. Energy Information Administration revised its forecasts downward last week for coal exports in 2013 and 2014.

Exports of 126 million short tons in 2012 surpassed the previous peak of 113 MMst exported three decades earlier, in 1981.

Earlier this year, the agency projected exports of about 110 MMst in both 2013 and 2014 in its monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook.

The forecast came down a little with the April outlook, to 107 and 109 MMst.

But the May outlook followed low preliminary numbers for the first quarter of 2013.

"U.S. coal exports, which had been steadily growing since 2009 on an annual basis, were down 1.3 MMst compared with the same period in 2012," the agency wrote.

South Africa increased its exports to the U.S.'s largest market, Europe.

"Continuing economic weakness in Europe … falling international coal prices, and increasing production in other coal-exporting countries are the primary reasons for the expected decline in U.S. coal exports," the agency wrote.

"EIA expects U.S. coal exports to decline from 126 MMst in 2012 to 105 MMst in 2013 and 106 MMst in 2014."

Although there has been talk of continuing growth in exports of metallurgical coal, the projected decline includes declines in both steam and metallurgical coal exports. Steam coal exports totaled about 56 MMst in 2012 and are projected to decline to about 42.0 and 43 MMst in 2013 and 2014; 2012 metallurgical coal exports of 70 MMst drop in the forecast to about 63.0 and 64 MMst in 2013 and 2014.

In spite of slowing exports, the agency has revised its production forecast upward.

The expectation for 2013 is up slightly to 1,027 MMst in the May outlook, from 1,025 MMst in the April 2013 outlook.

But the 2014 forecast rose more significantly, to 1,063 MMst from 1,046 MMst, a little closer to the 2008 high of 1,171 MMst.

Production of Appalachian coal is forecast to rise from 294 MMst in 2012 to 305 MMst in 2013 and 313 MMst in 2014 — higher than the April forecast and the highest production since the sharp drop-off from 2008's 390 MMst.

The production forecast rises even in the face of falling expectations about exports due to strengthening trends in the domestic market.

The agency raised its 2013 total consumption forecast — including the lower export demand — to 955 MMst in May, up from 948 MMst in April, and its 2014 forecast to 976 MMst from 957 MMst. The agency has attributed recent forecasts of higher domestic consumption to increasing demand in the power sector in response to higher electricity demand and higher prices for natural gas, and it attributes this revision to what must be stronger views of that same trend.

Final 2012 numbers are still in flux and the agency gave new, lower estimates of total 2012 coal production in the May outlook. The total number in April was about 1,021 MMst, with 304 MMst coming from Appalachia, but in May the numbers are 1,016 and 294 MMst.