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Coal leader Peabody files for bankruptcy

Company said there's been an "unprecedented" level of pressure on the industry.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Coal leader Peabody files for bankruptcy
Coal leader Peabody files for bankruptcy protection in the United States, citing "unprecedented" pressure on the industry. Photo courtesy of Peabody Energy Corp.

ST. LOUIS, April 13 (UPI) -- Peabody Energy Corp. said Wednesday it's the latest coal industry leader to face sector-wide pressures and seek U.S. bankruptcy protection.

"This was a difficult decision, but it is the right path forward for Peabody," Peabody President and CEO Glenn Kellow said in a statement. "Through today's action, we will seek an in-court solution to Peabody's substantial debt burden amid a historically challenged industry backdrop."

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Natural gas is becoming the primary source of electricity in the United States. Prior to April 2015, the total monthly share of electricity generated by coal had always been greater than gas.

A short-term market report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration said domestic crude oil production is expected to decline by 16 percent this year, the steepest decline since 1958. Coal consumption in the electric sector, meanwhile, could increase in response to higher natural gas prices next year.

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Peabody, the largest privately-owned coal producer in the world, said pressure on the industry has been "unprecedented" in recent years, though, from its standpoint, total U.S. and global coal demand should rise. Coal, the company said, will continue to play a major role in electricity generation "for many decades to come."

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Short-term, the EIA said coal consumption in the United States is on pace to decline 7 percent this year. A federal plan to push for more renewable energy, meanwhile, is on hold pending Supreme Court review. Nevertheless, EIA said some coal-plant operators will be faced with moving away from coal use or retiring plants altogether.

The filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection by Peabody follows trends set by its industry peers. Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources, among the largest coal companies in the country, filed for bankruptcy in January and August, respectively.

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Mary Anne Hitt, a director at the Sierra Club, said in a statement in response to Peabody's bankruptcy that the writing is on the wall for the U.S. coal sector.

"The biggest coal giant has fallen, and Peabody Energy's bankruptcy should serve as a wake-up call to anyone promising that coal's glory days will return," she said in a statement.

Peabody added its planned sales for assets in New Mexico and Colorado were terminated because a potential buyer was unable to complete the transaction.

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