Exporting offers additional markets for Colorado coal

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Export opportunities exist for coal mined in Western Colorado, according to the founder of a research company that tracks coal from mines to markets on a global basis.

The high energy content and low sulphur content make coal mined in the region especially attractive, said Stephen Doyle, founder and chief executive officer of Doyle Trading Consultants. “The coal quality from Colorado and Utah is incredible.”

A boutique energy research firm that specializes in the coal sector, Doyle Trading Consultants operates offices in Grand Junction and New York City. The firm provide analysis to more than 200 clients, among them energy companies and financial institutions, about U.S and global coal markets.

Doyle offered an overview of global coal markets, including opportunities for Colorado coal exports, during a presentation at the Energy Forum & Expo in Grand Junction.

The United States has the largest coal deposits of any country in the world, Doyle said, enough for what’s projected as a 210-year supply.

The U.S. also ranks among the top exporters of coal for generating electricity and manufacturing metals, he added. Other top suppliers include Indonesia, Australia and Russia, Doyle said.

Some of the top markets for coal include China and India, he said.

Coal exports from Colorado and Utah go through terminals in California and Texas, Doyle said.

The potential for increased coal exports from the region depends on world prices, but also the construction of additional export facilities in the Pacific Northwest, he said. In addition, there’s an ongoing anti-coal sentiment, Doyle said.

It’s better for the environment to export  cleaner U.S.  coal and use  that coal in power plants in foreign countries than dirtier coal from other sources. And if countries don’t get coal from the U.S., they will get it elsewhere, Doyle said.

Moreover, there’s a moral issue involved in helping poor countries develop their capabilities to bring electricity to places where people still use wood and dung for heat and cooking, he added.

Back in the United States, coal remains the fuel for about 40 percent of electrical generation, Doyle said. “It’s a very important part of our energy puzzle.”

Large coal-fired power plants have been modified to meet increasingly stringent emissions standards in the U.S., he said. But the changes don’t make economical sense for smaller power plants, many of which have closed or soon will close, he added. The mines that supplied coal for those power plants also have closed.