Because anthracite is not burned by U.S. utilities in power plants to generate electricity, the small, tight-knit industry clustered in the northeastern Pennsylvania counties of Schuylkill, Carbon, Northumberland, Lackawanna and Luzerne essentially is immune from the seemingly endless procession of air quality regulations rolled out by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Of course, other EPA rules, pertaining to water, for example, do apply to the mining of anthracite.
This year, anthracite production in the Keystone state probably will exceed 2 million tons, Duane Feagley, executive director of the Pennsylvania Anthracite Council, predicted in late January. “Everybody is selling everything they’re producing,” he said.
Final 2014 production figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration were not yet available in late January. Feagley, however, said the state’s anthracite output was expected to fall below its benchmark 2 million tons last year.
Nevertheless, British-based Atlantic Coal plc said in late January its Stockton surface mine in Luzerne County enjoyed a record production year in 2014, turning out 165,052 tons, an increase of more than 8% from the 2013 figure of 151,265 tons.
Since last fall, Pennsylvania anthracite has been in hot demand from overseas customers largely because of the continuing conflict in the Ukraine, and inquiries about the availability of the coal has been flooding company offices in places like Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, where Blaschak Coal is headquartered.
“We’ve heard from India, Turkey, Egypt,” Blaschak President and CEO Greg Driscoll said on a cold January day when he fielded a request from Bangladesh. “This is the first I can recall from Bangladesh,” said a slightly surprised Driscoll.
“As the Ukranian conflict has gone on since last summer, we’ve seen an ever-broadening interest by users of anthracite around the world,” he added. “A number of requests are directly from Ukraine, but [customers] are looking for power plant coal, which is not our game.” Anthracite, particularly overseas, also is used in steel production.
According to Feagley, his industry’s bread and butter remains the lucrative home heating market. Thousands of people in northeastern Pennsylvania and surrounding areas still burn anthracite to heat their homes in the winter, with the heating season loosely running from October to March. What anthracite producers do not sell for home heating mainly moves to the industrial market.