Eaves said the diversity of his St. Louis-based company, producer of about 135 million tons of metallurgical and thermal coal annually, makes it well positioned to take advantage of growing market opportunities abroad.
Some people are surprised, he said, to learn the U.S. already plays a “meaningful role” in seaborne coal markets. But, in essence, domestic coal producers have barely scratched the surface in terms of foreign exports.
While talk of coal exports often focuses on key players China and India, growth is occurring in other countries, as well as they rely on coal’s abundance and relatively low cost to grow their economies, he said.
“There’s significant growth in southeast Asia,” and Japan and South Korea as well, Eaves said. “In Europe, we’ve seen a pickup in demand there. Clearly, we think the U.S. has and will continue to see a stable market in the European market.”
While new coal plant construction has ground to a halt in the U.S., largely because of aggressive federal Environmental Protection Agency rules and lower natural gas prices, about 200 gigawatts of new coal generation is scheduled to go into operation by 2018 worldwide, he said. That should create a market for an additional 600 million tons of new coal supply a year “that is not in the marketplace today,” he said.
That figure could double to 1.2 billion tons a year if additional coal plants on the drawing boards in numerous countries become a reality, he added.
Eaves asked rhetorically whether the U.S. has sufficient terminal capacity in place to expand its participation in world coal markets. “Today, we have 125 to 130 million tons of capacity,” he said. But new projects in the pipeline should boost that capacity to 225 to 230 million tons.
That new capacity will be built over the next several years, he said, despite opposition from environmental groups. In particular, Eaves is confident the Millennium Bulk Terminal project in Washington, which would serve the low-sulfur Powder River Basin, eventually will become a reality.
Although he is not anticipating “a lot of growth in domestic markets,” Eaves said opportunity still exists in the U.S. for coal producers even with the tough regulatory climate.
In the eastern U.S., “we’ve gone from more of a thermal producer to more of a met supplier,” he said. “About 50% of our supply now is met coal, and we’ve improved the quality of products we’re shipping on the met side.”
In the high-sulfur Illinois Basin, Arch owns the Viper underground thermal coal mine in Sangamon County, near Springfield, that it inherited as part of its acquisition of International Coal Group. Viper “has a well-established customer base,” he said, including a long-term contract with Springfield City Water, Light and Power.
Still on the drawing board for Arch is the proposed Lost Prairie underground thermal coal mine near Pinckneyville in Perry County, Illinois. Arch controls about 200 million tons of reserves to support the mine, which would produce about 3 million tons a year. “Longer term, it could very well represent a core operating region for Arch Coal,” Eaves said.