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2017-08-31 10:50:26^ Go Back to Blog Top
Heres how Donald Trumps moves on coal could affect the industry
  By: Associated Press business staff
Filed Under: Mining -
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- President Donald Trump's move to roll back Obama-era regulations aimed at curbing climate change came as the coal industry is reeling from bankruptcies, pollution restrictions and growing competition from natural gas, wind and solar.

The White House said the order, signed Tuesday, will trigger a review of the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to reduce power plant emissions, and will rescind a moratorium on the sale of coal mining leases on federal lands.

Here's a look at how the moves will affect the coal industry across the country and in Ohio:


Trump's move to support coal mining is unlikely to turn around the industry immediately.

Experts say coal's biggest problem isn't a shortage of the fuel to dig or even climate change regulations but cheap and abundant natural gas. Gas prices dropped as advances in drilling such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, greatly increased the amount of gas on the market. For many utilities, that's made gas a more attractive fuel than coal.

U.S. coal production fell to 739 million tons last year, the lowest level in almost four decades. From 2011 through 2016, the coal mining industry lost about 60,000 jobs, leaving just over 77,000 miners, according to preliminary Labor Department data that excludes mine office workers.

Data for Ohio 2016 coal production is not yet available, but the previous 15 years are. The reports from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources shows a dramatic decline in production, though not quite as dramatic of a decline in employment.

In 2015, Ohio was ranked the 12th largest coal producer of the top 25 coal producing states, the ODNR reported. Twenty companies operating 43 mines in 14 Ohio counties produced more than 16.9 million tons of coal, most of it used by power plants.

The average number of coal jobs in 2015 was 2,352, with 1,764 working directly in surface or underground mines. Surface miners earned a median wage of $57,202 while underground miners earned a median wage of $78,348.

In 2000, 44 Ohio companies -- more than twice the number in 2015 -- operated 113 surface and underground mines in 21 Ohio counties and produced nearly 22.5 million tons of coal for power plants.

The average number of Ohio coal jobs in 2000 was 2,717, with 1,640 jobs directly tied to production. The average annual wage for surface mine workers was $39,171, and he average annual wage for underground miners was $53,898.

Christian Palich, president of the Ohio Coal Association, said Trump's actions means "a much brighter future for the coal industry."

Coal's share of the U.S. power market has dwindled from more than 50 percent last decade to about 32 percent last year.

In Ohio coal-fired power plants generated about 59 percent of the electricity last year, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Gas was used to generate about 23 percent of Ohio's power in 2016, nuclear about 14 percent and renewables about 2.28 percent.

Gas and renewables have both made gains across the nation, and hundreds of coal-burning power plants have been retired or are scheduled to shutter soon -- trends over which Trump has limited influence.

In Ohio, one gas turbine plant -- owned by American Municipal Power -- is generating electricity. There are currently four gas turbine plants under construction. Another six gas turbine plants are currently planned for Ohio and are expected to begin generating power between 2019 and 2021. 


The Obama administration blocked the sale of new coal leases on federal lands in January 2016 to determine if the government's coal program was shortchanging taxpayers and exacerbating climate change by effectively subsidizing coal.

In some cases, coal companies bought leases for as little as 1 cent per ton under a program that's supposed to be competitive but often involves just a single bidder. The royalties these companies pay to the government on each ton of coal mined have remained unchanged since 1976.

Under the moratorium, the Obama administration was considering raising royalty rates as much as 50 percent. Trump has put that proposal on hold.

On Feb. 16, the president overturned a rule that blocked coal mining debris from being dumped into nearby streams, a low-cost disposal method used in mountaintop removal in Appalachia.

Collectively, Trump's recent orders put the brakes on Obama-era actions would have made it more costly for companies to get coal from public lands and for utilities to burn the fuel.

About 40 percent of coal produced in the U.S. comes from federal land in Western states. Companies operating in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana, the nation's dominant coal region, control enough reserves to last 20 years.

Even before the moratorium, many mining companies were going bankrupt. They have voluntarily delayed their plans to lease tracts holding 1.5 billion tons of coal, including public lands not covered by the moratorium, according to Interior Department records reviewed by The Associated Press.

That's enough fuel to run the nation's coal-fired power plants for two years at current consumption rates.

The eight-state Appalachian region once dominated coal mining but now accounts for less than 25 percent of production after hundreds of mines there closed. Mines in the Midwest and South also have seen declines.


Lease applications blocked by the Obama moratorium included more than 1.8 billion tons of coal from two dozen mines.

Burning that coal would unleash an estimated 3.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide. That's equivalent to a year of emissions from 700 million cars. And that is just a small portion of the federal government's coal reserves.

Cloud Peak Energy CEO Colin Marshall described Trump's executive orders on coal as an important step toward lifting the "punitive and ill-conceived" regulations under President Barack Obama. The moratorium had blocked the company's applications to lease more than 200 million tons of coal in Montana.

Yet Marshall said more will be needed from Congress for the industry to survive long term, such as investments in so-called clean coal programs under which utilities could capture carbon from burning coal to keep it out of the atmosphere.

In Ohio, Robert Murray, chairman, president and CEO of Murray Energy -- which accounts for about half the coal mined in the state, issued a statement in which he said he and his employees are "extremely pleased."

"We are extremely pleased that President Trump has, once again, followed through on his promise to preserve coal jobs and low cost electricity in the United States.

"Indeed, President Obama and his supporters closed 411 coal-fired power generating units, totaling 101,000 megawatts, all for absolutely no environmental benefit."

Murray, whose company was the first to file suit against the Clean Power Plan, said the plan would have forced the closing of of more power plants and increases in power prices.

-- Plain Dealer energy reporter John Funk contributed to this report.

2017-08-31 10:39:21^ Go Back to Blog Top
The 2017 Mining Sector Economic Forecast
  By: Dale Benton
Filed Under: Mining -

In 2016, the mining industry saw an increasing number of companies with market caps rising above 50 million for junior players, a huge number after years of declining market caps and de listing for juniors.

That’s just one of the big takeaways from the 2017 mining outlook survey, from Pedersen and Partners. The survey looked at what issues of concern in predicting the economic outlook for the mining sector in 2017, and asked 114 executives across the Canadian mining sector for their say.

“The outlook for 2017 is still very much subject to change, given current geopolitical complexities in resource rich countries such as the US, South Africa, Brazil. Venezuela, Vietnam and Indonesia, to name a few,” says the report.

“In spite of this, or perhaps even because of this, the general climate seems to be one of increasing optimism,”

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the survey:

  • Increasing number of companies with market caps rising above 50 million for junior players in 2016, after several years of declining market caps and de-listings for juniors. This follows several years of seeing large numbers of juniors with market caps under 15 million.
  • The overall perspective appears to be one of cautious optimism, with most respondents predicating that 2017 will be an improvement over 2016, with only six percent expecting further economic contraction and 57 percent expecting to see growth in the sector
  • The perception is that this is an auspicious time in the market cycle to make acquisitions, but a difficult time to secure the necessary capital. However, we have recently seen an increase in M&A, with 45 percent of respondents expecting M&A to be a part of their growth strategy this year, 35 percent saying it would be a possibility if the right opportunity arose and only 19 percent ruling it out.
  • Securing resources, nationalism, skills shortages, infrastructure access and cost inflation are the highest concerns moving forward in 2017.
  • Respondents fear that the weakened growth in emerging markets will cause pressure on commodity values and margins, and result in the less access to new sources of financing. However, many feel that this will create more opportunities to acquire assets during the low price cycle.
  • Although regulatory requirements are increasing globally in the exploration and mining sectors, 54 percent of this respondents do not expect it to affect their operational strategy, while 26 percent do, and 20 percent are unsure.
  • Despite the fact that market caps and share prices are down across the board, 28 percent indicate they will be hiring new employees, 5 percent indicate that will be bringing back staff that were laid off, 50 percent will maintain their current staffing levels, and only 15 percent suggest they will be restructuring.
  • Many of the junior companies with the lowest market caps will disappear or seek mergers in order to increase capital. As a result, the number of publicly traded companies in the sector will be greatly reduced over the next year, which should in turn benefit some of the larger juniors with strong projects and healthy market caps.
  • As far as environmental sustainability and risk mitigation are concerned, most respondents (42.9 percent) considered the matter best handled at the executive team level, while almost a third (30.1 percent) would designate a special Board Committee to deal with these issues. One-fifth of respondents (21.9 percent) preferred to retain external consultants to examine these issues.
  • Almost two-thirds of the executives surveyed (62.3 percent), see the continuation of current exploration programmes as the best way to access new deposits over the next year, while only 21.9 percent would rely on acquisitions. 15.8 percent would consider restarting dormant exploration projects or bringing mins that are currently in care and maintenance back into production.

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