Friday, February 21, 2020

Wow, US Coal Production is in a Dive

Think Trump will address this?


David in Cal said...

Two points

1. The chart starts at 10,000, rather than zero. The drop was not as severe as it appears in the chart.

2. Even though Trump failed to stop the decline, he surely did more for the coal industry than a Democrat would have. And, he would do more for them in a second term than a Democrat would.


David Appell said...

Hi David.

1) The drop is about 40%. That's serious.

2) What has Trump done for the coal industry?

David Appell said...

Have a look: number of US coal miners since Trump took office is only up 100:

I guess that's better than losing jobs. But it does mean the average productivity of a coal miner is decreasing. (=coal_production/#miners)

PaulS said...

David in Cal,

IIRC the Democrats were pretty clear that they wouldn't be doing anything specific for the coal industry and their plan was instead to offer retraining programs for coal workers. It was Trump alone who promised coal workers that he would reverse the decline. The issue is not who would have done more, but the empty promises that were made giving people false hope.


The primary causes of decline since 2005 are the historically unprecedented hiatus in US total electricity generation growth coupled with the inflow of abundant cheap natural gas, which have together resulted in a large reduction in local coal demand.

However, globally coal demand remains at an all-time high, 25-30% greater than in 2005, with global coal import demand having increased by 60% since 2005. The absolute increase in global import demand since 2005 is larger than the decline in US coal consumption over the same period. Competing with natural gas domestically doesn't seem plausible so exporting might provide a route for saving the industry.

And US exports have increased since 2005, but they've taken only about 10% of the overall increase despite remaining the world's second largest coal producer and the largest (China) not really engaging in export. That offset only about 15% of the decline in domestic consumption. 50% of the global import increase comes from Indonesia, and 30% from Australia. The remainder mostly comes from the US and Colombia with roughly equal share.

It could be that high labor costs in the US, plus geographical factor of proximity to key importers China and India, make this an intractable problem - there will only be demand for US coal as a supplier of last resort due to higher prices, with limited scope to grow international demand for US coal in the foreseeable future. Plus presumably US producers make very low margin from export so there's not much desire to move into that market.

I do think the certainty among some that this is permanent ignores history, because this has happened before. After WW2 there was a huge increase in US natural gas and oil supply, basically removing coal from transport entirely and substantially replacing it for heating and electricity. The consequent decline in US coal consumption was not very different from what we've seen over the past 15 years. But then the gas and oil supply stopped growing in the 1970s and coal came roaring back.

The key question for me is whether the US can keep a lid on total electricity demand, as they have for the past 15 years.

David Appell said...

Paul, thanks for that excellent analysis.

Besides weather, how do you think US per capita electricity use might increase?