As Great Lakes season draws to close, coal figures are grim

Shipments of coal on the Great Lakes totaled 2.9 million tons in November, an increase of 6.2% compared to October, but a drop of 3.5% compared to a year ago, said the Lake Carriers’ Association on Dec. 6.

Compared to November’s five-year average, loadings were down 15.1%. Loadings at Lake Superior ports rose by 12%, but shipments from Lake Michigan and Lake Erie terminals decreased by 10% and 24.5%, respectively. Overseas shipments from Superior, Wisc., resumed in November and totaled 79,480 tons.

Year-to-date through November, the Great Lakes coal trade stands at 23.1 million tons, a decrease of 8% compared to a year ago, and a drop of nearly 25% compared to the five-year average for the January-November timeframe.

Major factors in that downturn include depressed coal burn by U.S. power generators due to depressed power markets and coal-to-gas switching, and Ontario Power Generation’s continued phase-out of its coal-fired capacity. Detroit Edison, which operates the Superior rail-to-ship transloading facility, takes much of its coal through the Lakes.

The Lake Carriers’ Association represents 17 American companies that operate 57 U.S.-flag vessels on the Great Lakes and carry the raw materials that drive the nation’s economy: 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. Collectively, these vessels can transport more than 115 million tons of cargo per year.

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.