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Short-Term Energy Outlook

Release Date: January 10, 2017  |  Next Release Date: February 7, 2017  |  Full Report    |   Text Only   |   All Tables   |   All Figures


Coal Supply

EIA estimates that coal production declined by 158 million short tons (MMst) (18%) in 2016, to 739 MMst, which would be the lowest level of coal produced since 1978. The decline in coal production in 2016 would be the largest annual decline in terms of both tons and percentage based on data going back to 1949. In 2017, growth in coal-fired electricity generation is expected to lead to an increase of 51 MMst (7%) in total U.S. coal production, with the majority of the increase coming from the Western and Interior regions. Total coal production in 2018 is expected to increase only slightly, with coal production growth in the Western region mostly offset by declines in the Interior region and Appalachia region.

Electric power sector coal stockpiles were 163 MMst in October 2016, a 3% increase from September, which follows the normal seasonal pattern of stockpiles building during the fall months. The end-of-October coal stocks were 12 MMst (7%) lower than the October 2015 level, but nearly identical (163 MMst) to the previous 10-year average for the month. EIA estimates power sector inventories ended 2016 at 170 MMst, which is slightly higher than the 10-year average of 167 MMst.

Coal Consumption

Coal consumption in the electric power sector, which accounts for more than 90% of total U.S. coal consumption, is estimated to have declined by 60 MMst (8%) in 2016. The decline is a result of competition with low-priced natural gas and the relatively mild temperatures in the first half of 2016 that reduced overall electricity demand. Coal consumption in the electric power sector is forecast to increase by 41 MMst (6%) in 2017, mostly because of rising natural gas prices and increasing electricity generation. However, a reverse of these trends in 2018 is expected to lead to an 11 MMst (1%) decline in power sector coal consumption.

Coal Trade

Coal exports in October 2016 were nearly 1 MMst (14%) higher than in the previous month, but exports for the first 10 months of 2016 were 29% (19 MMst) lower than the amount exported over the same period in 2015. EIA estimates U.S. coal exports for all of 2016 declined by 18 MMst (24%) to 56 MMst, the lowest annual level since 2006. Exports are expected to be 54 MMst in 2017 and in 2018.

Atlantic and Gulf Coast power generators are forecast to maintain their current levels of coal imports, which are primarily from Latin America. Imports are estimated to have been 10 MMst in 2016 and forecast to be nearly 11 MMst in both 2017 and 2018.

Coal Prices

EIA estimates the delivered coal price averaged $2.13/MMBtu in 2016, a 4% decline from the 2015 price. Coal prices are forecast to increase in 2017 and in 2018 to $2.18/MMBtu and $2.21/MMBtu, respectively.

U.S. Coal Summary
  2015 2016 2017 2018
Prices (dollars per million Btu)
Electric Power Sector 2.23 2.13 2.18 2.21
Supply (million short tons)
U.S. Coal Production 897.0 738.7 789.9 791.5
Imports 11.3 10.2 10.7 10.8
Exports 74.0 56.2 54.4 53.8
Consumption (million short tons)
Electric Power Sector 738.4 678.7 720.0 709.5
Other Sectors 59.7 55.8 53.6 55.1
Total Consumption 798.1 734.4 773.6 764.6
End of Period Inventories (million short tons)
Electric Power Sector 195.5 170.1 154.2 146.8
Total Inventories 238.4 212.2 195.0 189.1

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