How much coal does the U.S. export and import?

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An example of anthracite coal, the purest grade of coal. Image Copyright © Dr. Richard Busch

The United States is a net exporter of coal. However, some coal is still imported, mostly for power plants on the eastern and southern coasts of the country, where it is cheaper to ship in coal by sea from South America than transport it from mines in the northern and western United States.1

In the fourth quarter of 2017, the U.S. exported 28.2 million short tons of coal (14.6% of total production)2 to dozens of countries around the world; the largest markets were India (15.4% of all exports), South Korea (8.1%), and Brazil (7.8%).2

In the fourth quarter of 2017, the U.S. imported 1.4 million short tons of coal, mostly from Colombia (65%), Indonesia (18%), and Canada (13%).2

Coal exports decreased from 2012 to 2016 as U.S. coal production declined, mostly because cheaper natural gas and renewable energy sources decreased the demand for coal as a fuel for electricity generation.3 Since late 2016, coal exports have increased due to a slight increase in production and a continued decrease in U.S. coal consumption. Fourth-quarter 2017 coal exports were almost identical to fourth-quarter 2012.2


1 Coal Explained: Coal imports and exports Energy Information Administration
2 Quarterly Coal Report Energy Information Administration
3 Annual Energy Outlook 2017 Energy Information Administration

Learn More:

  • Quarterly Coal Report (Webpage), Energy Information Administration
    Abbreviated quarterly report of U.S. coal production, price trends, exports, and imports.
  • Annual Energy Outlook (Report), Energy Information Administration
    Annual energy outlook for the United States, with projections to the year 2040, including energy sources, consumption, prices, and more.
  • Annual Coal Distribution Report (Report), Energy Information Administration
    Provides detailed information on the movement of coal around the United States, including origin and destination states, and method of transportation, plus foreign coal distribution.