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Powder River Basin coal producer Cloud Peak Energy will increase exports through Westshore Terminals in British Columbia beginning next year under an agreement it reached with Colorado-based producer Westmoreland Coal, the companies said Friday.

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In a series of deals, Cloud Peak paid Westmoreland $37 million to acquire the latter's capacity at the Vancouver terminal. When the agreement takes effect January 1, Westmoreland will instead export production from its Coal Valley Mine in Alberta through Ridley Terminals in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Cloud Peak said that as a result of the deal it expects exports rise to 6 million to 6.5 million st next year from a projected 4 million to 4.5 million st in 2014. It is projecting annual export tonnage through Westshore to increase to 7 million to 7.5 million st in 2019.

"Despite current low international benchmark thermal prices we wanted to take this rare opportunity to increase our terminal capacity so we can grow our exports to South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and other Asian countries before new terminals are built," Cloud Peak CEO Colin Marshall said in a statement.

Asia is seen as a strong growth opportunity for PRB producers, but a lack of port capacity on the West Coast has restricted exports. Three proposed terminals in Washington and Oregon would add 100 million mt of export capacity, but construction is being delayed by strong environmental opposition.

"This is a win-win series of agreements," said Westmoreland CEO Keith Alessi separate statement. "We have entered into a new supply chain collaboration with the [Canadian National] and Ridley Terminals. The rail line to Ridley is better suited to our needs."

Neither company specified the amount of capacity Cloud Peak will obtain from Westmoreland. Westmoreland did not immediately respond to requests for comment early Friday and Cloud Peak spokesman Rick Curtsinger declined to say how much additional capacity the company will obtain.

Westshore, the closest export terminal on the West Coast to the Powder River Basin, has been operating at full capacity for several years. The terminal exported 30.1 million mt in 2013, and expects exports to reach 31 million to 32 million mt this year.

The terminal has contract commitments for roughly 90% of its annual capacity through 2021.

For Cloud Peak, which owns and operates three mines in the Powder River Basin, and has a 50% stake in another PRB mine, the deal offers the chance to increase exports, despite low global coal prices. In its second-quarter earnings call late last month, Marshall said Cloud Peak's export trade remains economical due to a profitable hedging strategy.

Westmoreland's Coal Valley mine produces bituminous coal with an approximate heat content of 10,800 Btu/lb, and 0.6 lbs/MMBtu SO2. The mine's annual production is roughly 3.3 million st, according to the company.

Ridley Terminals, the closest export terminal to Asia, had 2013 coal exports of 12.1 million mt. The terminal is undergoing an expansion that will increase its annual capacity from 12 million mt to 24 million mt starting in 2015.

Platts on Thursday assessed the price of thermal coal FOB Canada (basis 5,000 kcal/kg GAR, or roughly 9,000 Btu/lb) at $59/mt, up 12% from $52.50/mt a year ago.

--Andrew Moore,
--Edited by Jeff Barber,