By Jeremiah Shelor
The Exponent Telegram
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — In January, Murray Energy temporarily idled the Harrison County Mine for two days due to what the company called a “lack of adequate stockpile capacity.”
According to experts, this apparent drop in demand for the mine’s coal is likely symptomatic of larger market forces that have created a lot of challenges for the industry over the past half decade.
“We’ve seen a pretty significant drop off in the amount of coal production just in the last five years or so,” said Eric Bowen, an economist specializing in energy at the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at WVU.
Though Bowen was hesitant to pinpoint any single factor as the conclusive cause of this drop off, he said the recent surge in natural gas production has undoubtedly hurt the coal industry.
“I think there’s pretty good evidence that the significant increase in natural gas production has lowered the price of natural gas, which can be a substitute for coal and electricity production,” Bowen said.
Tyson Brown, a statistician with the Energy Information Administration, offered some numbers that suggest power plants across the nation are moving towards natural gas and away from coal. He said 2013 saw “12,000 megawatts of power plant capacity additions,” with 57 percent of those additions made up of electricity generated by natural gas.
What percentage of the new additions included power generated from eastern coal?
“None,” Brown said. “Not a single unit was added.”
Bowen said he forecasts coal production in the state to continue to drop by about 3 percent in 2014. But by 2015, he expects the current trends to level off a bit.
“We’re going to settle in somewhat lower than we are this year, but it’s going to stabilize by 2015,” Bowen said…