Coal Production Up in Montana But Still Lower Than Past

Last year was the nation's lowest coal production year since 1978

By Dillon Tabish

BILLINGS — Montana coal production is more than 2 million tons (1.8 million metric tons) ahead of where it was this time last year, but analysts said the future is far from bright for the fossil fuel.

Last year was the nation’s lowest coal production year since 1978, and although this year is looking up, the first seven months of 2017 still trail 2015 production by about 6 million tons (5.4 million metric tons), the Billings Gazette reported Saturday.

The Montana Coal Council compiles the production numbers.

Most of the state’s coal production is mined from Spring Creek, a Cloud Peak Energy mine in southeast Montana.

Cloud Peak Energy spokesman Rick Curtsinger said the company experienced a large increase in sales to Asia customers from last year to this year.

“Last year by the end of the second quarter, we had shipped 200,000 tons (181,000 million metric tons) of coal to our Asia customers,” Curtsinger said. “This year as of June 30, we shipped 1.8 million tons (1.6 million metric tons) to customers in South Korea and Japan.”

Tom Sanzillo, analyst for Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said production was so bad in 2016 that the only way for it to go was up. Cheap natural gas outcompeted coal to become the dominant power source in the United States last year, Sanzillo said.

Companies have cut costs and found a way to do business with lower coal market prices, he said. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis favors an energy future with less coal-fired power and more development of cleaner, renewable energy sources.

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