Great Lakes coal shipments pick up a bit in August

Shipments of coal on the Great Lakes totaled 2.9 million tons in August, an increase of 6% compared to July, but a drop of 3% compared to a year ago.

Compared to the month’s 5-year average, loadings in August were down 25%, said a Sept. 11 monthly report from the Lake Carriers’ Association.

Overseas shipments of coal continued in August. Coal shipped to Québec City, in the east end of the lake system, for reloading into oceangoing vessels totaled 196,000 tons. For the 2012 shipping season (which began when winter ice melted), the overseas trade totals 980,000 tons.

Water levels and the dredging crisis impacted the coal trade in August, the association noted. The Great Lakes are usually approaching their peak at this time of year and the season’s top cargos are often loaded in August. However, water levels are plunging and only 17 of the 63 federally-maintained ports are being dredged this year. The largest coal cargo shipped in August totaled only 64,678 tons, well below the record of 70,903 tons set in August 1997.

Year-to-date, the Lakes coal trade stands at 14.5 million tons, a decrease of 7.7% compared to a year ago. Loadings are nearly 28% behind the 5-year average for the January-August timeframe.

One of the biggest Lakes shippers is Detroit Edison, which has an affiliate that runs a rail-to-ship transloading terminal at the western end of Lake Superior that handles coal for Detroit Edison and other customers. A shrinking presence in the Great Lakes market is Ontario Power Generation, which is phasing out its coal plants.

The Lake Carriers’ Association represents 17 American companies that operate 57 U.S.-flag vessels on the Great Lakes and carry raw materials including iron ore and fluxstone for the steel industry, aggregate and cement for the construction industry, coal for power generation, as well as salt, sand and grain.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.