Sunday, March 1, 2015

Coal trends on the Ohio River


That was the first word out of my mouth when I compared coal shipments through Ohio River locks in 2014 with 2013 and the recent peak in 2015. I expected locks in the mid Ohio Valley to see declines and those in the Louisville District to see increases, but not to this extent.

First, the numbers. I added the monthly totals on the Corps Reports website and compared them with final numbers for 2013 issued last month by the Corps of Engineers. I chose 2005 as a comparison year also because it seemed to be the recent high point for coal shipments here in the Huntington District.

All amounts are in thousands of tons.

Locks 2014 2013 2005
Emsworth    14,605.6    15,390.6    16,828.2
Dashields    14,957.5    15,455.8    16,846.7
Montgomery    14,889.6    15,337.8    17,430.4
New Cumb.    20,571.1    22,141.5    25,487.8
Pike Island    20,335.8    22,103.3    29,112.9
Hannibal    29,731.8    27,439.0    40,686.3
Willow Island    26,366.5    24,936.4    36,996.8
Belleville    27,784.7    26,013.7    38,045.4
Racine    28,946.6    26,516.7    38,200.8
RC Byrd    17,919.5    23,470.9    42,051.5
Greenup    16,377.3    20,545.9    42,725.0
Meldahl    20,775.5    25,526.9    34,298.3
Markland    22,723.0    27,773.4    22,163.1
McAlpine    35,781.1    39,270.9    20,610.6
Cannelton    36,388.0    39,597.7    23,100.9
Newburgh    40,716.0    44,638.3    28,166.3
JT Myers    23,033.2    27,753.9    31,493.8
Smithland    24,895.8    30,381.8    35,528.7
L&D 52    21,414.6    27,740.1    30,110.4
L&D 53    11,607.3    19,326.9    19,516.0

Now, some background.

It's no secret that Appalachian coal production is down. There are geological reasons and environmental reasons. Here are some I listed in an article that was printed early last year in The State Journal:

The southern coal counties of West Virginia, along with eastern Kentucky and parts of Virginia and Tennessee, lie in what is known as the Central Appalachian region. Recent and long-term market conditions are working against an improvement in their fortunes.

The reasons for the pessimistic outlook for thermal coal include:

  • The low-hanging fruit has been picked. Seams are getting thinner and more expensive to mine.
  • The Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 helped Central Appalachia by forcing utilities to buy the region's low-sulfur coal to meet emissions standards. The amendments damaged the Illinois Basin coalfields, which produce high-sulfur coal, and also helped Powder River Basin coal. But with more power plants installing scrubbers, utilities can now switch to dirtier, cheaper coal from Illinois.
  • Meanwhile, the regulatory environment led utilities to accelerate their plans to retire older, smaller, coal-burning plants that are not large enough to justify the expense of scrubbers. Rather than being retired around the year 2020, many of these plants have been retired already or will be in about 15 months.
  • Because of conservation efforts and market conditions, the demand for electricity is less than it was a few years ago.
  • Meanwhile, the shale gas revolution has caused utilities to choose gas for new generating capacity. When gas prices are low, as they were in 2012, utilities turn to gas over coal when they can. That has changed some, and coal is regaining some market share.
  • And renewable resources such as wind are providing more power to the grid.

Compare Greenup with Cannelton, 2013 vs. 2005. It's almost as though the numbers have been reversed.

This explains a lot of why I see fewer boats on the Ohio here in the Huntington area than I did a few years ago.

There is other research I need to do as other numbers from 2014 become available. But these numbers are further evidence that Central Appalachian coal is losing market share to the Illinois Basin, the Powder River Basin and other sources.

© Jim Ross. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mississippi River bridge closing at Cairo

Although it's over the Mississippi  River, the bridge that connects Cairo to Missouri is one of my favorites, mainly because it is so narrow and so long. I don't necessarily like driving over it. Even in a normal-size car, I don't want to meet a tractor-trailer coming the other way. It's a lot like the Ohio River bridge between Cairo and Kentucky in that respect.

Anyway, the bridge will close for a year while crews repair and strengthen it. The work will cost $3 million.

I've wondered how much it would cost to replace the Ohio River bridge at Cairo, considering the width of the river. Or even if it would be replaced if the old one had to close.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Catlettsburg, Ky. 2/22/15

There were a lot of ice chunks on the Ohio River here in the Huntington area yesterday. It looked like the river was flushing out a lot of ice that came from up north, as the temperature had been above freezing in daylight hours for a couple of days. But it's supposed to drop back down around zero a couple of nights this week, so we might get some more ice then.

I had to go out yesterday, so I swung by Catlettsburg harbor to see what was there. As usual for a Sunday, there was not a lot of activity, but I did get three interesting pictures.

First, a Marathon boat makes its way through the ice floes that come in waves. You have ice, then clear water. Then ice, then clear water. I'm not sure, but that might be the M/V MAP Runner.

Second, a couple of Ingram boats tied up across the river at McGinnis Inc. at South Point, Ohio. That's the Bill Berry in front. I'm pretty sure the Daniel T. Martin (formerly Jackson H. Randolph and James C. Justice) is behind it.

And third, a Crounse barge. I liked the reflection in the still water, the ice in the background and the fact we had a barge in a nice spot.

I'm looking forward to this week's temperatures about as much as I am to some overdue dental work, but that's the hand we've been dealt herein the Ohio Valley this winter. At least it's better than what we had last year.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Meanwhile on the ice front ...

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a story about how ice is affecting river traffic on the upper part of the Ohio.

The Maysville Ledger Independent has a piece on how ice is affecting the ferry at Augusta, Ky.

And WLWT in Cincinnati tells about what's going on there with the ice.

A few more river ice pictures

When your assistant stays home and you absolutely have to get the picture, all you can do is keep your eye on the road -- or in this case, the bridge -- lower the window, hold the camera where you think you should point it and snap away. If you're lucky, you get one or two usable images. That's what I did this morning crossing the East End bridge here at Huntington, WV, to get an image of the ice on the river. I didn't get all of what I wanted, but you can see a marina on the West Virginia side of the river and you can see some of the ice on the river's surface farther out.

Last year's ice was thicker than this year's judging from what I saw along the shore. Another difference is that the river was a foot or two higher when it froze last year, so when it went down, it left big slabs of ice on the shore. This time the river was at or near normal pool, and I had to shoot these slabs from afar.

And in this view from beautiful downtown Huntington, here is the Mary Ellen Jones heading up the icy Ohio.

I don't know about you, but I'm ready for the thaw we've been promised for this weekend before the next chill sets in on Monday.

Two boats on an icy river

I saw something interesting when I went down to the river with my camera today. There was ice in the channel, and I saw the Ohio Valley and the Nashville both upbound pushing empties. First, I've never seen the two boats heading in the same direction back-to-back before, and when they have gone upstream, they've usually pushed loads. On top of that, when they went under Huntington's East End bridge, they used the channel on the Ohio side, not the main channel in the middle of the river.

Here's the Nashville, formerly the Valvoline, bringing up the rear.

And here's the Ohio Valley about to go under the bridge. The sun was in the wrong spot to get a good image of the boat without a lot of work.

The rest of these are what I got as I drove and chased the boats up the road. First, the two boats as seen fro the bridge. That's the Nashville in the center of the picture, with the Ohio Valley up ahead. It looks like the Nashville is following the path the Ohio Valley cut through the ice.

And here are three of the Ohio Valley, taken as I stopped my car on the highway to get some snaps before traffic came up behind me.

There was no place to park my car other than in someone's driveway, so these were what I could get, traffic and vegetation permitting.

Later, other river ice pictures from today.

Winter pics

I went down to the river this morning to get some ice pictures, and I saw a couple of sights, namely sea gulls resting on ice and two Marathon boats heading up the river with empties, which I assume means they are going to a dock to pick up some crude from the Utica shale in Ohio.

Pictures later. I have to earn some money first. Funny how that always gets in the way.

Wheeling suspension bridge closed

The Wheeling suspension bridge is closed for an undetermined amount of time because a cable snapped this morning.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hooray for the Delta Queen

It has a new owner, and it could be back on the river next year IF it can get supporting legislation from Congress.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Train derailment in West Virginia

Off topic:

Today, with what's going on in Fayette County WV, is one of the few days I wish I was still in a newsroom. Having said that, take a look at this piece I wrote for The State Journal last spring about crude oil shipments through WV.