Viability of Oregon, Washington coal export terminals threatened by falling Asian prices

The Oregonian, December 13, 2013
By Rob Davis

A terminal to export 8.8 million tons of coal annually has been proposed at the Port of Morrow at Boardman. But a slump in coal prices is leaving it and two other export projects looking financially shaky. Jamie Francis/The Oregonian

A terminal to export 8.8 million tons of coal annually has been proposed at the Port of Morrow at Boardman, Oregon. But a slump in coal prices is leaving it and two other export projects looking financially shaky. Jamie Francis/The Oregonian

Three years ago, coal was hot.

Stoked by insatiable coal-fired Chinese power plants, international demand boomed. Prices soared. Phones rang frequently at Oregon and Washington ports. On the other end? Eager investors hoping to snatch up land to build export terminals to quench Asian demand.

How things have changed.

Today, coal prices have slumped. Exports have shrunk. Three coal terminals proposed in the Pacific Northwest have been abandoned. And industry analysts say the three that remain look precarious.

Asia was supposed to be the next frontier for U.S. coal producers, a glimmer of hope for a sinking industry. But the market is shifting underfoot, calling the terminals’ profitability into question. For investors, they’ve become bets that markets will bounce back.

“Certainly, higher prices globally are supportive of these investments,” said Richard Morse, managing director at SuperCritical Capital, an energy finance consulting firm. “To the extent we don’t have higher prices, it’s harder to make these work. U.S. exporters will have a harder time competing with lower-cost international competitors.”

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About coalfreegorge

Coal is rearing its head again the Columbia Gorge. The new threat comes in the form of proposals to export coal from Wyoming to coal-fired power plants in China. The coal would be transported via uncovered rail cars through the Columbia Gorge. Many Columbia Gorge Communities in Oregon and Washington support a coal-free world, beginning at home, in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge, recognizing the importance of people determining what materials are allowable for transport through their communities and watersheds. This blog exists to communicate and advocate for the public interest in issues pertaining to coal transport in the Columbia River Gorge, providing an online outlet for honest discussion and information. To inform and unite local citizens about the damaging effects of coal transport through our communities. To endorse positive and considerate dialogue with the aim of mutual understanding among diverse parties. CLEAN AIR HEALTHY COMMUNITIES NO COAL EXPORTS STOP COAL IN ITS TRACKS
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