Montana coal production up slightly | New

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Montana’s coal production is up slightly as higher natural gas prices make the fuel more competitive.

The mines produced seven million tonnes through March, an increase of about 11% from the same period a year earlier, according to federal data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The increase comes at a time when coal production in the United States is up 3% for the year so far. Production from the Montana mine can be attributed in part to two things, increased exports and a slight rebound in demand for coal from domestic power plants. The long-term trend in production is less coal. The state has one less mine than in 2020, when Decker Coal went bankrupt.

Signal Peak reported an increase of nearly 200,000 tonnes at the Bull Mountain mine, which straddles Yellowstone and Musselshell counties. The mine is exclusively a source of export coal for customers in Japan and South Korea. Its 1.72 million tonnes produced in the first three months of the year marked its best first quarter since 2018 and its third-best start-to-year performance in the past decade.

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Similarly, coal production from the Spring Creek mine increased by 160,568 tonnes. Earlier this year, Spring Creek owner Navajo Transitional Energy Company predicted that improving demand in South Korea and Japan would boost production at its mines in Montana and Wyoming.

Spring Creek is Montana’s largest coal mine. First-quarter production has hovered around 2.7 million tonnes for several years. Before a coal crisis in 2016 that led to the bankruptcy of then-owner Cloud Peak Energy, Spring Creek rarely produced less than 3 million tonnes in the first quarter.






A train is loaded with coal from the Signal Peak mine near Roundup in this file photo from 2014.


Staff of LARRY MAYER/Gazette


Cheap natural gas and a global coal glut were credited for the Cloud Peak coal crash in 2016. Rising gas prices and tight coal production are now credited for improving mine production .

NTEC CEO Clark Moseley told Argus Media earlier this year that coal would benefit from higher natural gas prices in 2022. Just two years ago, NTEC furloughed employees of Spring Creek as the pandemic disrupted domestic coal consumption in the Midwest.

Spring Creek’s most productive time is usually between June and October as domestic demand for coal increases. Coal piled up in power plants before the cooling season, and again before winter heating, are the main drivers.

Westmoreland Mining LLC, which operates the Rosebud and Absaloka mines, increased production. The Company’s Montana mines power domestic power plants, primarily the Colstrip Power Plant in southeastern Montana and the Sherburne County Power Plant in Becker, Minnesota. The owners of the two plants intend to phase out coal power within five years. SHERCO Unit 2 is scheduled to retire next year.

The Rosebud mine, which serves Colstrip and a smaller power plant that burns coal waste, produced 130,000 tonnes more in the first quarter of the year than at the start of 2021. The 1.9 million tonnes produced at mine were largest in the first quarter. operated since 2019, which was the last year Colstrip Units 1 and 2 operated, before being closed.

The Absaloka mine, the state’s smallest active mine, increased production to 550,674 tonnes in the first quarter, a 42% increase from the same period a year earlier.

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