Maybe a lump of coal wouldn’t be so bad this Christmas.
The international demand for coal is surging, according to Duane Feagley, executive director of the Pennsylvania Anthracite Council. And that means surging prices for those who use the resource for home heating in America.
"Our guys are working eight-, 10- to 12-hour shifts," Feagley said. Anthracite coal is used primarily for heating and water filtration. It is mined primarily in the northeastern counties of Schuylkill and Luzerne. "Demand is much higher now that it's been in recent years."
Until the demand subsides or is met, Feagley said, prices aren't likely to fall.
"Mining costs are going up. Companies are taking a look at expanding their operations," he said.
"India is becoming a real player in the market, too," he said. "Historically our primary export market was Canada and European countries."
According to Ellis, nations in the Pacific Rim were normally fed by South Africa. But suppliers in that region simply can't keep up anymore.
"It's very robust right now. We're ratcheting up to fill the demand," he said.
"It's kind of opened up all the markets. Demand is high enough from China and India that we're able to enter. You've got a country like China that's huge and that can't get enough of electric or steam or cooking coal for steel."
Locally, PBS Coals sells coal to more than 3,000 residential customers.
"PBS definitely wants to make it available to the public, so that's what we do," PBS sales manager Mark Popernack said. "The demand for coal is always up and down, but it probably (spiked up) about two years ago."
Only a small percentage, however, is sold locally. PBS was purchased in 2008 by Severstal, Russia's largest steel-maker. Popernack said Somerset County coal is low volatility and therefore most valuable for its steel-making qualities.
"That's what they're mining the coal for," he said. "They're losing money on the coal to sell it cheap (for home heating)."