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Pieces of coal in dirty hand

Coal’s Slow Burn to Bankruptcy

One-quarter of America’s coal production in bankruptcy.

Arch Coal has now filed for bankruptcy, underscoring the crisis that has descended on what has been a fuel mainstay of electric power generation for decades.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that companies responsible for more than one-quarter of American coal production are now in bankruptcy, victims of a more than 50 percent decline in coal prices.

The newspaper reported that the coal sector is being transformed – and not disappearing. According to the Journal, “bankruptcies only spell death for current corporate structures, not necessarily the mines they operate. And the U.S. still gets 34 percent of its electricity from coal, according to the Energy Information Administration, and that number is still expected to be around 30 percent by 2030."

I interviewed Steve Leer, then CEO of Arch Coal, in his St. Louis office five years ago and he then pinned much of his hope for the future on development of carbon capture and sequestration technology.

“If you take the next 10, 12 years and focus on the technology, we'll have the answer as to whether we can achieve carbon capture and storage,” Leer told me in 2010. “We've proven that we can do a lot of this. An MIT study said we need 10 world-scale projects, and we need to get on with it.”

But with falling natural gas prices and flat demand for electricity, development of an economic coal carbon capture technology never became a priority.



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