As Clifford Krauss pointed out last spring, the United States, in response to increasing global demand, has become a major exporter of coal for the first time in years, forcing domestic buyers to compete with others from countries like Germany and Japan.
Now it appears that India — a giant in coal production itself — is doing some window-shopping of its own in American mine towns, not just to secure exports, but to invest.
(And all this at a time when the globe is ostensibly embracing a migration away from fossil fuels and the reduction of C02 emissions.)
Following up on a tidbit published in India's Business Standard last week, our New Delhi bureau chief, Somini Sengupta, confirms today that Santosh Bagrodia, India's coal minister, and Partha Sarathi Bhattacharya, the chairman of Coal India, were on a shopping trip in the Appalachians last week.
Ms. Sengupta wrote in an e-mail dispatch:
State-owned Coal India Ltd., part of a five-company consortium, is searching for coal mines in the United States, Canada, Australia and Indonesia to satisfy India's sharply rising demand for coal to feed its power plants.
India already imports 50 million tons of coal every year, and its demand is projected to grow. Indian officials say buying coal mines is a better way to secure supply and at potentially better prices. 'If we want to make foreign coal available in the country it should be through acquisitions,' said Mr. Bhattacharya, chairman of Coal India, who accompanied the Indian Coal Minister on the trip to the United States to explore private financing for the projects.
Mr. Bhattacharya said he was prepared to invest more than $4 billion from his company for the acquisitions, which are still in their nascent stages. He said he was encouraged by falling prices of mines in the United States.
As a percentage of total production, foreign direct investment in coal production in the United States dropped precipitously in 2004, from 21 percent to 14 percent, when RAG (Germany), RWE (Germany), and Itochu (Japan) sold their interests, according to data released earlier this year by the Energy Information Administration.
The largest remaining foreign companies active in coal production in the United States, according to the E.I.A., are Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton (Australia) and Scottish Power.
Coal India, the largest producer in India, began signaling its interest in investing in foreign energy sources as far back as June.
"Of course, it's a buyers market," Mr. Bagrodia, told Ms. Sengupta. "Money is not a problem."