Seward coal loading facility idled for rest of year

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Aurora Energy Services, a subsidiary of Usibelli Coal, announced Tuesday that it’s coal loading facility in Seward will be idle through the rest of the year.

A drop in coal prices has hit Alaska coal exports, according to Aurora’s general manager Rob Brown.

“It’s all due to market prices in the Pacific Rim. We still have a customer base in Chile, as well as Korea and Japan. However, due to international coal market price, we are unable at this point to secure shipments in the near future.”This year, about 150,000 short tons of coal was exported to Japan from Seward.

Brown says an oversupply of coal coming out of Indonesia directly competes with Alaska coal on the international market. A strong US dollar makes it unattractive for overseas companies to buy US coal, and a slowdown in the Chinese economy puts a damper on the amount of coal sold internationally.

Brown says the coal loading facility, which normally employs eight people full time in Seward, is now down to six employees. Those workers will be laid off. But Brown says that could change

“We know being in the export business for darn near thirty years, we know that coal markets are cyclical. And so we’ve seen down years before and we anticipate that at some point the markets will return and we will be able to hire people back.”The Seward coal loading facility has been slowing down for some time. At one time, it employed 24 workers. Brown says, since 2011, it has seen less coal across it’s conveyor belts each year.