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U.S. coal demand and production are on the rise, and MT and WY are helping drive the increase

A pile of coal.
Creative Commons
A pile of coal.

Higher natural gas prices coupled with recovering demand for U.S. coal are putting the coal industry on track for the first year-over-year increase in generation it’s seen since 2014.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects 22% more U.S. coal-fired generation this year than last, partially due to coal’s stable prices compared to natural gas, and stoked by increased demand from domestic and Asia Pacific markets.

U.S. coal production increased from roughly 265,000 thousand tons in the first six months of 2020 to about 283,000 thousand tons over the same period this year, according to federal data, with production rising even more since July.

Westmoreland Mining owns three coal mines in Montana. Chief Operating Officer Joe Micheletti says while he doesn’t believe coal is on the verge of returning to 2008 heights, he’s optimistic about the industry’s rebound.

“It’s been year after year where we’ve seen decline, decline, decline," he says. "Our hope is maybe we’ve hit the bottom and what we see coming is maybe what we see right now that the coal demand is going to be maybe steady."

Coal from the Powder River Basin in northeast Wyoming and southeast Montana accounts for around 43% of U.S. output.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.