Sunday, July 29, 2012

Moving again

You might know that when I started seeing boats on the Ohio River again after several weeks of relatively little traffic, among the first I would see would be the M/V Lee Synnott and a Crounse boat.

I saw both up near the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam yesterday while I had my older son, Joey, in the area for a lesson in family history.

Here are a few pictures.

Towboat traffic has been down lately partly because the coal markets have been in a down cycle. Mild weather in the first half of the year kept down the need for electric power, and in that time utilities maximized the use of natural gas, which has seen prices fall thanks to drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions.

There are several indications coal use at power plants is up. For one thing, gas-fired generation was running at or near capacity before the summer heat wave hit, leaving coal to pick up the slack. Here is more information, taken from the quarterly earnings report from Arch Coal:

U.S. coal consumption for power generation declined 75 million tons through the first half of 2012, and could decline by more than 100 million tons for the full year.  However, U.S. coal generator stockpiles most likely peaked in May and could decline meaningfully by the end of the year. 
Contributing to the rebalancing of the U.S. coal market are recent favorable weather trends, increased U.S. coal exports, higher natural gas prices and significant domestic coal supply reductions.  ...  
"In May, U.S. coal stockpiles reached record levels, with coal burn down significantly in the first half of the year," said (Arch Coal CEO John W.) Eaves.  "Summer has arrived, however, bringing heat, power load and increased coal burn.  With improving coal demand and ongoing supply rationalization, we could end the year with domestic stockpiles below 175 million tons, the level at which we entered 2012."
Also yesterday, I saw the Amber Brittany -- twice -- but at neither time was I in a spot to get a good photo. And Joey, who hates towboat chasing, was with me, so I let the Amber Brittany go. Too bad. The boat has nice lines and a really nice color scheme.

We saw several other boats, too. Maybe the towboat drought is over.