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Baltimore Bridge Collapse Halts Some Coal Exports

The recent collapse of the Francis Scott Key bridge in Baltimore has cut off more than traffic across busy Interstate 695 – it also temporarily cut off a vital shipping lane for about a quarter of the nation’s coal exports.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Port of Baltimore is the second-largest coal export hub in the U.S., behind only Norfolk, Va., and accounted for 28% of exports in 2023. About 20 million short tons of coal is shipped from the port each year, due to growing demand for U.S. coal in Asia, even as coal use in this country declines.

Much of the coal exported from the Port of Baltimore comes from Consol Energy mines in Washington and Greene counties, which is shipped by rail to the company-owned Baltimore Marine Terminal. Consol, based in Canonsburg, has been focusing on exporting coal to countries where demand is increasing. In 2023, 60% of the coal from its Pennsylvania mining complex was exported, S&P Global reported.

Shortly after a cargo ship struck a bridge pillar on March 26, causing the bridge to collapse into the Patapsco River, Consol issued a statement indicating that vessel access had been delayed. “At this moment, we do not have a definitive timeline of when vessel access or normal operations will resume. We are looking at all available options to us to minimize or address direct and indirect impacts to the Company and its operations,” the statement read. Consol and other coal companies were rerouting some rail shipments to Norfolk, according to published reports.

Access from a second terminal, the Curtis Bay Coal Piers owned by CSX railroad, was also blocked, but CSX was continuing to bring trains into the facility, while making contingency plans. The CSX terminal also handles coal from the Appalachian region.

The top recipient of exported coal from the Port of Baltimore is India, followed by several European countries. Two types of coal – steam and metallurgical – are shipped overseas. Steam coal, which is used for energy generation, represents most of the exports, while metallurgical coal, which is used in steel production, also has a significant volume.

The EIA said the port also receives a “limited amount” of imports of other energy products, including biodiesel. However, exports of liquefied natural gas are not handled from the Port of Baltimore and are not affected. The bridge collapse has also affected non-energy imports and exports, notably the auto industry.

Officials are working to clear the bridge debris and establish temporary shipping channels but commercial shipments are likely to be limited for some time.

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