By Steven Mufson and Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 20, 2008; Page A01
Long considered an abundant, reliable and relatively cheap source of energy, coal is suddenly in short supply and high demand worldwide.
REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA) CHINA OUT
An untimely confluence of bad weather, flawed energy policies, low stockpiles and voracious growth in Asia‘s appetite has driven international spot prices of coal up by 50 percent or more in the past five months, surpassing the escalation in oil prices.The signs of a coal crisis have been showing up from mine mouths to factory gates and living rooms: As many as 45 ships were stacked up in Australian ports waiting for coal deliveries slowed by torrential rains. China and Vietnam, which have thrived by sending goods abroad, abruptly banned coal exports, while India‘s import demands are up. Factory hours have been shortened in parts of China, and blackouts have rippled across South Africa and Indonesia‘s most populous island, Java.
REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA) CHINA OU
Meanwhile mining companies are enjoying a windfall. Freight cars in Appalachia are brimming with coal for export, and old coal mines in Japan have been reopened or expanded. European and Japanese coal buyers, worried about future supplies, have begun locking in long-term contracts at high prices, and world steel and concrete prices have risen already, fueling inflation.