Export coal deal stalls as companies renegotiate

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 8, 2013 at 6:29 pm •  Published: May 8, 2013
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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A proposed deal on a Montana coal mine that supporters said would boost Asian exports of the fuel via the West Coast has stalled, as court documents show the companies involved are renegotiating terms of the sale.

Representatives of the two companies said Wednesday that a deal still was expected. They would not disclose what prompted the renegotiation or what the new terms could entail.

The deal announced in December involved a complex transaction in which Australia-based Ambre Energy would pay $57 million to Cloud Peak Energy for full control of the Decker mine near the Wyoming border.

The cash payment was to increase to $64 million if the deal did not close by March 31, meaning the delay potentially already has cost Ambre $7 million.

Ambre wants to ramp up production from the once-bustling Decker mine and ship the coal to growing Asian markets through a pair of proposed ports along the Columbia River.

But the company faces stiff opposition in Oregon and Washington state, and critics have questioned whether Ambre has the financial wherewithal to see its ambitious plans to fruition.

Another coal export proposal along the Columbia — a Kinder Morgan, Inc. shipping terminal downstream of Portland — was abandoned this week, when the company said the site it selected was not compatible with its plans. Kinder Morgan said it will look for another site in the region.

Cloud Peak, one of the largest coal producers in the U.S., is seeking land and rail easements for a new Wyoming mine in the deal with Ambre.

The Wyoming-based company also would gain the option to move 5 million tons of coal annually through Ambre's Millennium port in Longview, Wash. — part of an industry-wide strategy to increase exports as domestic coal sales have faltered.

It was not clear what prompted the companies to seek an extension of a May 10 deadline they faced to settle a dispute over the Decker mine. The mine is co-owned by Cloud Peak and Ambre and has been the subject of a management quarrel that led to a lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

In a joint court filing, the companies asked to have until July 12 to finalize the deal.