ST. LOUIS (AP) — Illinois' abundant high-sulfur coal once shunned as a pollution source by U.S. utilities saw record demand oversees last year even as domestic coal providers broadly curtailed production as cheaper, competing natural gas crimped their sales, according to new report Wednesday.
Energy Ventures Analysis Inc.'s study, commissioned by the Illinois Office of Coal Development, found that 13 million tons of Illinois coal was exported last year, up from the 2.5 million tons in 2010 and the 5.5 million tons in 2011. Over the past two years, the report found, ore made its way to at least 18 countries, most notably China and other Asian countries where demand for coal has been ravenous.
Rising four spots since 2009 to become the nation's fifth-biggest coal-producing state, Illinois last year churned out 47.2 million tons of the natural resource, up 25 percent from 37.8 million tons the previous year. That surge came as U.S. coal production slumped 11 percent overall, as stubbornly soft demand — partly because U.S. electric utilities switched to cheaper natural gas as their fuel source — drove down coal prices and consumption.
Illinois officials attribute the increase in overseas demand for the state's coal to its wealth of it from its place in the resource-rich Illinois Basin, which also includes portions of Indiana and Kentucky. Illinois has the nation's biggest reserves of coal used in electricity generation and to heat large boilers and industrial furnaces, Wednesday's report noted.
Illinois' proximity to key shipping routes such as the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to get the coal to the Gulf of Mexico, along with coal producers' easy access to Illinois highways and rail lines, give the state "a unique export advantage over other states in the region," Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement.