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Baltimore coal exports likely to be blocked for weeks

The collapse of the Key Bridge in Baltimore on March 26th is likely to shut down the port’s coal exports for up to six weeks, blocking the transport of up to 2.5m tons of coal, according to Ernie Thrasher, CEO of Pennsylvania-based Xcoal Energy & Resources LLC.

In 2023 Baltimore was the second-largest terminal for coal exports from the US. Thrasher said that the blocking of a major coal hub threatened to disrupt global energy supply chains. Thrasher said that “you’ll see some diversion to other ports but the other ports are pretty busy. There’s a limit on how much you can divert.”

While the event will have a major effect on Baltimore, in global terms the city’s port ships less than 2% of global seaborne coal. Thrasher said that the coal exported out of Baltimore included a lot of India-bound thermal coal, which is used for electricity generation. “It will cause some disruption or chaos from a supply-chain standpoint. But the big question is the impact on India more than any global impact”, said Thrasher.

A shutdown of Baltimore coal exports would affect a significant portion of the Indian coal supply. The country consumed about 91m tons of coal last year, according to the Indian government, and 12m tons of that came from Baltimore, according to a research note from analytics firm Energy Aspects. That research note also predicted that marine traffic in Baltimore would be disrupted for two or three weeks at most.

Commodity analytics firm DBX said in a research note that the supply disruption will affect Asian coal markets more than European markets because much of the coal exported from the port has high sulphur content. That makes it unsuitable for European power stations.

CSX Corp said on Tuesday that it had capacity to send more trains to the Baltimore coal terminals it serves before reaching space limits. It warned that CSX customers should expect shipment delays. CSX said that it was working to identify alternatives to moving cargo through Baltimore.