According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the state’s mines had turned out nearly 52 million tons in 2013 with two weeks remaining in the year. That easily beat the 2012 production of 47 million tons.
Illinois mines are believed to be largely responsible for the 3.3% increase in coal output during the third quarter as reported by the EIA.
Phil Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association, said he was pleased his high-sulfur coal state reached a production benchmark it had been aiming for, but was hesitant to predict how much coal Illinois will mine in 2014.
Although several large underground mines, mainly owned by Foresight, still are ramping up in Illinois, the impact of the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s new pollution control rules on the state’s coal industry remains uncertain, he said. Illinois coal producers send most of their product out of state as little is burned in Illinois power plants. Increasingly, Illinois is making inroads in the southeastern U.S. thermal coal market, displacing coal from central Appalachia.
Foresight’s four Illinois mines — Sugar Camp Energy, Williamson Energy, Hillsboro Energy and Macoupin — produced more than 20 million tons in 2013, or roughly 40% of the state’s total. Depending on the strength of markets in 2014, Sugar Camp, Williamson and Hillsboro, in particular, are capable of growing production to 30 million tons or more.
Although Gonet was reticent to make a 2014 prediction, Illinois production conceivably could get a further boost this year once privately owned White Oak Resources begins operating a longwall mining system at its new White Oak No. 1 mine near McLeansboro in Hamilton County. Alliance Resource Partners has made a major financial investment in the mine.
Other new Illinois underground mines are planned by Hallabor Energy’s Sunrise Coal subsidiary and Arch Coal Inc., although they are not expected to begin producing coal in 2014.
Hallador/Sunrise are pursuing two new mines in east-central Illinois — Russellville and Bulldog, which together could produce more than 6 million tons annually.
Arch, meanwhile, still is expected to begin developing its new Lost Prairie mine in Perry County at some point, perhaps in 2014, perhaps in 2015. Lost Prairie’s production is pegged at about 3 million tons a year as well.
While overall production was up in 2013, coal exports from Illinois most likely were down, Gonet said. In 2012, the state shipped more than 13 million tons overseas. But it probably did not reach that figure in 2013, he said.