Now that PeabodyEnergy Corp. has filedfor bankruptcy, more than two-thirds of the coal produced in the Powder River Basincomes from a company that has recently filed for bankruptcy.
According to an analysis of SNL Energy data, about 44.3% of thecoal produced in the U.S. came from a company that has filed for bankruptcy court protection since 2012. More than 69% of the coal producedin the Powder River Basin came from coal companies recently filing bankruptcy.
In Wyoming, home of Peabody's North Antelope Rochelle mine, thelargest in the nation, nearly three of every four tons mined came from a coal companyon the bankruptcy list. The North Antelope Rochelle mine produced 109.3 milliontons of the 896.8 million tons of total domestic coal produced in 2015.
Peabody also holds major coal-producing assets in the IllinoisBasin. With the latest bankruptcy filing, now about 28.9% of coal from the IllinoisBasin comes from a coal company recently filing for bankruptcy court protections.
The datamay slightly underestimate the figure as it examines the production data based oncurrent ownership, and through asset sales, some mines sold in bankruptcy may havebeen sold to solvent companies not noted on SNL Energy's compiled bankruptcies list.The analysis of productioncomes from fourth-quarter 2015 data, the most recent full data set available fromthe U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
According to a recent reportfrom Fitch Ratings, the filing pushed the U.S. metals and mining loan default rateto 29% from 25%.
Peabody's focus on thermal coal mined primarily from IllinoisBasin and Powder River Basin mines allowed the company to avoid many of the challengesof producers with a heavier focus in eastern U.S. coal basins. However, despiteeach of its operations being cash flow positive, Peabody has struggled under theweight of debt it took on to purchase MacarthurCoal Ltd. in Australia, a major leap into metallurgical coal markets.
Prices for met coal collapsedafter hitting highs over $300 tonne in 2011. Only recently did the met coal benchmarkreverse course and edgeback up to $84/tonne.
Peabody faced additional challengeswhen a deal struck withBowie Resource Partners LPdid not go through smoothly. The deal, which Peabody said was terminated, wouldhave provided the company with additional liquidity in exchange for its New Mexicoand Colorado assets.
Opponentsof the coal industry pointed to Peabody's filing as evidence the entire industrywas flailing.
"Peabody Energy's bankruptcy is a harbinger of the end ofthe fossil fuel era," said Jenny Marienau, U.S. divestment campaign manager with350.org. "Peabody is crashing because the company was unwilling to change withthe times — they doubled down on the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, and investorsbacked their bet, as the world shifted toward renewable energy. They have consistentlyput profit over people, and now their profits have plummeted. Our world has no placefor companies like Peabody."
Peabody, however, writes in its filings that it is simply reorganizingfor stabilized markets in the future — a claim also made by other large coal companiesthat later decided to sell or liquidate assets. The company assured customers ina letter that it would continue to operate in the normal course of business throughoutthe bankruptcy.
"Peabody has an unmatched asset base, strong underlyingoperations, an outstanding workforce, a new management team and geographic diversity,"the letter states. "During this process, we expect to continue to do what wedo best: mining coal, loading trains, restoring lands and maintaining our activitiesin a largely business-as-usual fashion."
Peabody also assured employees, community partners, and others it was workingto continue to maintain a global presence.
"The pressures affecting the global coal industry in recentyears have been extreme and, indeed, unprecedented, creating significant balancesheet issues for the company," the company wrote in a letter to community partners."Industry pressures include a dramatic drop in the prices of metallurgicalcoal for international steel making, weakness in the Chinese economy and overproductionof domestic shale gas. But coal will remain as an essential part of the energy mix… and Peabody is here to stay."