In the past two years, roughly half of U.S. coal production was attributable to the top four coal producers, the result, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), of changes in regional production as well as decades-long trends that have seen the several mergers and acquisitions.
Peabody Energy Corp., Arch Coal Inc., Alpha Natural Resources LLC, and Cloud Peak Energy together supplied 575 million tons, or 52% of total U.S. coal production, in 2011. More than 500 other companies supplied the remaining 48%. By comparison, the fifth-largest coal producer in 2012, Consol Energy Co., contributed 34 million tons, or 35% less than fourth-place Cloud Peak Energy.
The Oct. 2 announcement, which includes several charts, graphs, and maps, shows that Peabody Coal Co. and Arch Coal Inc. have been in the top four since at least 2000, and Peabody—which owns mines in both the western and midwestern basins, as well as outside the U.S.—has been number one for decades. In the past three years tracked by the EIA, Cloud Peak Energy and Alpha Natural Resources LLC have held third and fourth positions.
The trend toward a rising share being controlled by fewer companies “began in the 1990s with the continued expansion of mines in the Powder River Basin in the western United States and with the divestment of coal properties by oil and gas companies. In 1990 and 1995, the top four accounted for 22% and 35%, respectively. By 2002, when total coal production levels were nearly identical to production in 2011, the top four coal producers accounted for 40% of the total U.S. production and increased to over 50% in 2011 and 2012, based on preliminary 2012 data.”
In 2011, combined production by the top four companies represented 27% of Appalachian production, 18% of interior production, and 77% of western production.
For regular news of EIA reports like this one, visit the POWER homepage at powermag.com, where you will find a daily EIA infographic and a link to the EIA site for more information.
—Gail Reitenbach, PhD, editor, POWER (@POWERmagazine, @GailReit).