US coal looks east for hope and some change

Last week, a delegation of Indian coal ministers and industry executives from Coal India Ltd. visited the United States. It wasn’t an official state visit organized through the US State Department or the White House. It was a four-day business meeting organized by the US-India Business Council at the US Chamber of Commerce and the US Department of Energy.

They brought together Indian energy leaders and executives from big US coal companies like Peabody, Massey and Murray Energy.

The US companies want to sell coal to India, a country in deep need of about 280 million tons of coal over the next ten years, a country that also wants clean coal technology to meet the power needs of a subcontinent expecting an eight percent growth in its GDP.

I spoke at length with Robert Murray, president and CEO of  Cleveland-based Murray Energy Corp. who says the Obama administration is clearly, unequivocally against the US coal industry.

The administration certainly says all forms of energy are important. It can’t ignore coal which generates 50 percent of US electricity. He notes the administration has given no real tax breaks, subsidies, or handouts to the coal industry.

Murray says he believes in clean coal technology but says the administration has instead poured billions of dollars into useless projects like carbon capture and sequestration research. The president’s $787 billion stimulus put $3.4 billion into CCS research.

Murray says gimmics like carbon capture and sequestration, which isn’t even in practice, will never be viable.

 I took a CCS course at MIT and it sure looked that way to me. Scrubbing plumes for carbon dioxide is hard enough, injecting it underground, hoping it doesn’t hit a fault line or come up to the earth’s surface, is another challenge.

The lack of support is enough for Murray and other coal companies to take their business elsewhere. Unfortunately Murray says he plans to take his jobs elsewhere too, something the administration can’t really afford. Unemployment is just a hair under 10 percent.

He plans to start mining coal in South Africa and wants to sell coal to India.

Meanwhile India is expected to announce in a matter of weeks whether the US, Australia or Indonesia will be the beneficiary of $1.7 billion in coal contracts to provide the resource to the subcontinent.

The chairman of Coal India Ltd., Partha Bhattacharyya, told me we’ll know in a few weeks, but that India is leaning toward the US. Only three reporters–one from Platts, one from Bloomberg and I–were invited to interview him. See the upcoming feature post about our conversation.

So if all this is going down, what about Copenhagen and the historic accord? How does it comport with what coal companies are doing to help increase use overseas?

The ministers and the US coal companies say the accord was nothing more than a three-page flimsy “voluntary” political petition that will never be outweighed by energy demand and the mighty US dollar.

One Response to “US coal looks east for hope and some change”
  1. Amitava says:


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