Compared to oil, about half of which moves across national borders before being consumed, about 85% of coal is mined in the same country as it is burned. Nevertheless, coal exports are growing in importance, as increases in coal-fired power generation in India and China outpace increases in coal production in those countries. Increasingly, Indian and Chinese companies are not only buying increased amounts of coal from overseas, but are also investing in mines or buying mines outright in Australia, Indonesia, Mongolia, Russia, South Africa, the United States, Tanzania, Zambia.
Currently, the world’s leading exporters of coal are Australia and Indonesia, which together accounted in 2010 for over half of the worldwide total. Other exporters, in order of tonnage, are Russia, Colombia, South Africa, and the United States.
With demand for coal by U.S. power producers on the decline, coal mining companies are looking for exports to fill the gap. Currently, bulk of U.S. coal mined for export comes from Central Appalachia. About two-thirds of U.S. coal exports are high-BTU metallurgical or “coking” coal used for steelmaking. Proposals for expansion of exports focus on sending coal from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana over rail lines to West Coast ports for shipment to Asian buyers. Prospects for such an expansion have provoked major opposition from a wide array of citizen groups.