Despite Gas Boom, Coal Isn’t Dead

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Production Is Booming in Western U.S. to Feed Power Plants at Home and Abroad.

a barge on the Ohio River.

Last year was a tough one for the coal industry.

James River Coal Co. JRCC +0.71% laid off a quarter of its workers. Consol Energy Inc., CNX -2.13% which has mined coal since the Civil War, sold five Appalachian mines, representing nearly half its coal output. And more than a half-dozen U.S. coal-mining companies went under, beset by new environmental rules and competition from low-cost natural gas.

But coal isn’t going away.

Coal remains the biggest source of fuel for generating electricity in the U.S. and coal exports are growing fast. Even as coal production plunges in the green hills of Appalachia, it is booming in the open-pit mines of Wyoming and under the plains of Illinois and Indiana.

Overall, U.S. coal production is projected to remain relatively constant over the next three decades, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“Coal’s future is strong; it’s just not a growth story” in the U.S., says Consol President Nick DeIuliis.

Demand is being stoked by the rise of power-hungry middle classes in emerging economies, led by China and India. By the end of this decade, coal is expected to surpass oil as the world’s dominant fuel source, according to a recent study by consultant Wood Mackenzie.

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