Montana’s Coal Mine Production Up 2 Million Tons

Source:  Helena Independent Record,  September 3, 2017  By:  Tom Lutey

BILLINGS:  Montana coal production is more than 2 million tons ahead of where it was this time last year, although analysts say the future is far from bright for the fossil fuel…

Coal production is running away from a historically bad 2016 — the nation’s lowest coal production year since 1978.  But the first seven months of 2017 still trails 2015 production by about 6 million tons.  Montana mines produced 20.7 million tons through June two years ago.

Montana mines produced 3.36 million tons of coal in July.  Almost half of the production increase came from Spring Creek Mine, said Bud Clinch, Montana Coal Council director.  Nearby Decker Mine, owned by Lighthouse Resources, was the second-largest contributor.  Decker production was up 155,000 tons.

“I think both Decker and Cloud Peak are because of export markets.  They both have capacity at Westshore Terminal and demand is stronger,” Clinch said.

In late 2015, with prices driven down by a glut of coal in the Asia Pacific market, Montana mines suspended exports entirely.  Cloud Peak agreed to pay Westshore to reserve space, rather than ship coal at prices that wouldn’t cover the costs of delivery.

Those sluggish prices suppressed coal exports into 2016, when production was in a downward spiral until late in the year when supply tightened again and the market improved. In 2017, the growth has been steady.

“We’ve been up every month for the last five months,” Clinch said…