Proposed coal mine deal eyes increased Asian exports

September 5, 2014

Wyoming based Cloud Peak Energy would give up its 50 percent stake in the Decker coal mine in Montana to co-owner Ambre Energy of Australia. In return, Ambre would take responsibility for the $67 million reclamation liability and Cloud Peak would gain the option to move 8 Mt (8.8 million st) of coal through a proposed port in Longview, WA under a deal proposed by the companies.

The deal is expected to close later this year, the Great Falls Tribune reported.

Ambre, Cloud Peak and other companies want to increase coal shipments from the Mountain West to Asia as domestic demand falters. However, resistance from regulators and environmentalists have stalled a number of proposed port projects.

U.S. coal exports are forecast to drop below 100 million tons in 2014 after hitting a record 125 million tons in 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

By selling Decker, Cloud Peak will avoid losses of $3 million to $5 million annually, according to a Thursday company disclosure to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

A deal on the 120-worker Decker Mine has been in the works since 2012. Negotiations hit a roadblock last year when Ambre could not come up with financing to cover the reclamation and lease bonds.

Cloud Peak President Colin Marshall said in a statement that the deal with Ambre positions both companies to meet future growth in Asian markets for thermal coal that is burned to generate electricity.

Ambre Energy North America Chief Executive Officer Everett King hailed the deal as “a significant step” in the company’s ambitions to develop the export market.

“As well as building new port infrastructure, Ambre will now also be able to guarantee the supply of high-quality U.S. coal to customers in Korea, Japan and the Asia Pacific region from its own mining operations,” King said.

Regulators last month rejected a proposal for a second Ambre-backed coal port along the Columbia River in Oregon. The Oregon Department of State Lands said the terminal would interfere with a longstanding fishery in the state’s waters.

Fuller said an appeal of the rejection is likely.

In 2011, the privately held Ambre bought 50 percent stakes in Decker and a second mine, Wyoming’s Black Butte, which it owns with Anadarko Petroleum. But a year later, Decker laid off 59 employees — more than one-third of its workforce.

The number of workers has since rebounded somewhat. Still, last year’s 3.1 million tons mined from Decker considerably lagged the roughly 10 million tons annually in prior years.

Ambre racked up losses of more than $124 million from 2005 through 2012, according to the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based environmental think tank.

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