Green River Star -

Our View: King Coal may have died


King Coal is dead. Long live King Coal.

Those might be the words coming from someone whose followed recent news about the coal industry in Wyoming. Mentioned in Sweetwater County School District No. 2’s budget introduction is a nugget of information telling of where coal is ranking right now. Citing data from the U.S. Energy Department, natural gas surpassed coal as the top source of electric power generation in the county last April. As natural gas is used more for electricity, the price for natural gas has started to stabilize from the seasonal volatility gas prices experienced when natural gas was used primarily as a winter heating fuel.

This is great news for Sweetwater County, as 28.9 percent of its $2.9 billion valuation comes from natural gas production. More value in natural gas will inevitably result in more attention in southwest Wyoming’s gas fields, but where does that leave coal? Coal’s contribution to the county’s valuation has increased during the last few years, from 7.61 percent in 2011 to 8.63 percent in 2014, and the Jim Bridger Power Plant, which still utilizes coal mined from the nearby mine of the same name, will continue to maintain that valuation. However that isn’t as true across the state.

Peabody Energy in the Powder River Basin has cut jobs and Arch Coal faces hundreds of millions in debt that could cause the company to become bankrupt. Both companies are trading for pennies compared to their stock value from a few years ago.

The question remains if the king has merely been dethroned of if he’s truly dead. Supposing the long talked about industrial megacomplex is installed in southwest Wyoming, coal could be used to make higher-grade products. Yet, the demand for such products is questionable as other resources, including solar and wind, continue to gain popularity in energy generation. Regional and global demand for coal products would dictate how and if coal would be processed at the megacomplex.

Supposing the king’s death is exaggerated, his power is certainly waning. Even in Sweetwater County, coal’s influence has weakened. For a generation of residents, mines like the Stansbury Mine and Lion Coal are distant memories. The heydays of both Reliance and Superior even more so.

Regardless, Sweetwater County will be just fine if coal continues to decline. Natural gas and oil are already the industrial kings of the area and trona, as we mentioned last week, will continue to maintain its global significance well into the future. Due to the raising importance of natural gas and trona’s dependability, we’ll be just fine if rumors of King Coal’s death ring true.


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