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A must-know overview of the US thermal coal industry for investors

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Coal

Coal consumption really took off in the U.S. at the turn of industrial revolution. At that time, coal saw expanded application in industrial plants and railway locomotives. Given its abudance, even more than oil or natural gas, coal is produced throughout many countries and is widely used for power generation and industrial manufacturing today.

Proved reserve

While North America’s share of coal production made up just 12.75% of world supply in 2012, it has one of the largest shares of the world’s proved reserves. Currently, the U.S. makes up close to a quarter of proved reserves. Based on annual production of 892 million metric tonne in 2013, the U.S. has plenty of reserve left to sustain its current production (see lifespan figures above), much higher than China, India, or Indonesia. Note that according to Congressional Research Service, proved reserves represent the amount of fossil fuels that have been discovered and can be recovered in the future under present and expected local economic conditions with existing technology. This means the amount can change based on change in economic expectations.

Major suppliers

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There are six main publicly traded companies that operate coal mines in the U.S., which are also part of the VanEck Vectors Coal ETF (KOL). These are Arch Coal (ACI), Alpha Natural Resource (ANR), Peabody Energy Corporation (BTU), Cloud Peak Energy (CLD), Consol Energy (CNX), and Walter Energy, Inc. (WLT), in order of production. In 2013, the top four publicly traded companies’ U.S. assets made up about a half of the U.S.’ annual coal supply.

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