The largest coal mining company in the United States substantially lowered the value of one of its top-producing thermal coal assets based on low expectations for future coal demand.
Peabody Energy Corp. impaired the value of its North Antelope Rochelle coal mine in Wyoming by $1.42 billion in the second quarter. Peabody said it was lowering the expected value of the coal mine, the largest in the United States, because of assumptions regarding lower long-term natural gas prices, the timing of coal plant retirements, and continued growth from renewable generation.
“While we still believe coal is essential to a reliable energy grid and that our [Powder River Basin] assets are best positioned to serve that demand … we do expect coal’s long-term share of the U.S. generation mix to remain below prior-year levels,” Peabody CFO Mark Spurbeck said on the company’s Aug. 5 earnings call.
Production from the North Antelope mine has dropped drastically in recent years. U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data shows the company produced about 30.7 million tons of coal in the fourth quarter of 2014, a near-term high for the mine. Quarterly production from North Antelope dropped below 20 million tons for the first time in recent history in the first quarter of 2020, and second-quarter production totaled just 14.0 million tons. Peabody delivered coal from North Antelope to 84 power plants across the U.S. in 2019, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data.
“This is a clear signal that Powder River Basin coal production isn’t coming back and the multi-year decline that was prevalent before the pandemic will continue long after the virus is gone,” Shannon Anderson, the staff attorney for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, said in an emailed statement about the impairment. “It’s time for Wyoming leaders to think about what comes next for our communities, coal miners, and our revenue streams.”
Peabody Energy had $6.54 billion in total assets as of the end of 2019 but reported $4.95 billion in total assets on its balance sheet as of the end of June. Including the impairment, the company booked a $1.54 billion net loss, or $15.78 per share, in the quarter.