“We’re doing quite well,” Duane Feagley, executive director of the Pennsylvania Anthracite Council, said in late November. “We’re seeing shipments going out and a stronger demand for the second half of the year.” Although demand for the hard mineral was good during the winter of 2013-2014, one of the coldest across the eastern third of the country in two decades, weather wielded a double-edged sword, forcing production cuts at some mines as the deep freeze persisted into March.
As a result, anthracite output was down 21% for the first half of 2014, according to Feagley. Pennsylvania produced 842,000 tons of anthracite coal in the first six months of this year, down from 1.07 million tons in the comparable period of 2013.
But the second half of the year has seen a healthy resurgence. “We’re in the cash flow months right now,” he said. “This cold snap certainly doesn’t hurt us at all. We’ll see production and sales go up with the home heating market. For the next six months, we’ll be in a relatively strong position.”
Feagley added, “We’re seeing a lot more exports going out. One of my members reported shipping coal to Japan for the first time in a decade.”
That would be Reading Anthracite Co., based in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.
Mark Pishock, Reading’s vice president, confirmed his company secured a “nice contract” with an unidentified Japanese customer, but would not elaborate except to say Reading has been shipping the contracted coal overseas.
Pishock echoed Feagley’s upbeat comments, acknowledging, “We’re having a very strong season.” Aside from the export sales, Reading is experiencing brisk demand from home heating customers as “everybody’s bins were empty at the end of last winter” and homeowners feared the prospects of another bitterly cold winter like last year.
While it is uncertain if Pennsylvania anthracite producers will hit their typical 2-million-ton total for 2014, both Feagley and Pishock predicted 2015 will be a better year.
“2015 will be a year when we see a significant increase in tonnage,” said Pishock. “We’re in the 350,000- to 400,000-ton range [annually as a company] and would expect to increase dramatically to about 500,000 tons” in 2015.
Feagley said he believes Pennsylvania anthracite production in 2015 will return to levels in 2011 and 2012 when the state turned out more than 2 million tons each year. “I see us getting back to 2 million tons, maybe up to 2.5 million tons a year.”