Coal Shipments on Ohio River Stabilizing From Decline

The State Journal
15 October 2015
By Jim Ross

The decline in coal shipments on the Ohio River along the West Virginia border has reversed somewhat in many places, and the growth rate of crude oil and petroleum products has slowed.

An analysis of cargo volumes at the seven locks and dams along the Ohio in West Virginia shows more coal moved through the locks at six of the seven dams, with only the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam between Point Pleasant and Huntington showing a decline compared with the third quarter of 2014.

Year-to-date,  however, only the locks at Belleville and Racine moved more coal this year than last, and both showed increases of less than 1 percent.

The two dams at the far ends of the state — New Cumberland and Robert C. Byrd — showed the largest percentage decreases, at 12.2 percent and 16.4 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, shipments of crude oil and refined petroleum products had showed double-digit percentage increases at all seven locks and dams in the first two quarters of this year. In the third quarter, only New Cumberland and Willow Island showed that kind of growth over last year. Still, for the first three quarters combined, all seven dams showed increases, from 14.2 percent at Robert C. Byrd to 8.2 percent at New Cumberland.

Although petroleum shipments are increasing while coal is struggling, coal remains the dominant material shipped on the Ohio. Calculated by tons of material moved, petroleum volumes range from 14 percent of coal volumes at Hannibal to 35 percent at Robert C. Byrd.

Coal shipments are strongest on the part of the river from the mouth of the Kanawha River at Point Pleasant up to the Hannibal Locks and Dam at New Martinsville. Petroleum product shipments are strongest in the lower part of the Ohio and decrease as they move upstream.

Marathon Petroleum Co., which has a refinery at Catlettsburg, Kentucky, near Huntington, uses the Ohio and Kanawha rivers to move its products to terminals for further distribution. Marathon also uses the river to move crude oil from the Utica Shale region of eastern Ohio to its refineries.