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Coal explained Coal imports and exports

U.S. coal imports

Although the United States produces a large amount of coal—about 756 million short tons (MMst) in 2018—some coal-burning power plants along the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Ocean sometimes find it cheaper to import coal from other countries than to obtain coal from U.S. coal-producing regions.

In 2018, the United States consumed about 687 MMst of coal and imported about 6 MMst of coal. Coal imports were equal to about 0.9% of U.S. coal consumption in 2018.

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Nearly all of U.S. coal imports in 2018 were from five countries.

  • The top five source countries of U.S. coal imports, the amount imported, and their percent shares of total U.S. coal imports in 2018 were
  • Colombia 4.06 MMst 68%
  • Indonesia 0.92 MMst 15%
  • Canada 0.77 MMst 13%
  • Russia 0.08 MMst 1%
  • South Africa 0.05 MMst 1%

A total of about 82,000 short tons of coal were imported from 10 other countries in 2018.

U.S. coal exports

The United States is a net exporter of coal, meaning that it exports more coal to other countries than it imports from other countries. In 2012, U.S. coal exports reached a record high of 126 MMst, equal to 12% of U.S. coal production in 2012. U.S. coal exports declined each year from 2012 through 2016 and then increased in 2017 and 2018. In 2018, the United States exported about 116 MMst of coal—equal to about 15% of U.S. coal production—to at least 52 countries.

About 47% of U.S. coal exports in 2018 went to five countries.

  • The top five destinations of U.S. coal exports, the amount exported, and their percent shares of total coal exports in 2018 were
  • India 17.19 MMst 15%
  • The Netherlands 12.36 MMst 11%
  • Japan 10.39 MMst 9%
  • South Korea 9.32 MMst 8%
  • Brazil 8.60 MMst 7%

The United States imports and exports metallurgical coal and steam coal. Metallurgical coal can be used for steel production, and steam coal can be used for electricity generation. Metallurgical coal accounted for about 53% of total U.S. coal exports in 2018. Steam coal accounted for 88% of total U.S. coal imports in 2018.

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Last updated: May 9, 2019