Coal Miner Switches Investment Focus to Natural Gas

coal train
coal train

On of the country's largest coal miners, Consol Energy Inc. (NYSE: CNX) has outlined its investment plans for 2013, and the company expects to spend more on natural gas than it does on coal properties. Net investment for 2013 is forecast at $835 to $865 million, of which the biggest share will be spent on natural gas.

The company's CEO said:

[O]nce we complete the BMX Mine, we do not expect to be investing in new major coal growth projects. So, in 2014 and beyond, we expect annual coal investments to approach maintenance-of-production levels of $5 to $6 per ton.

The BMX (Bailey Mine Expansion) in southwestern Pennsylvania is expected to be operational by the first quarter of next year following a $660+ million expansion project that will boost production at the Bailey complex to 25 million tons a year.

To reach its spending goal, Consol plans to sell $455 to $640 million in assets, including a $328 million payment from Noble Energy Inc. (NYSE: NBL). The payment is the last in a $1 billion deal between the two firms to create a joint partnership to develop natural gas leases in the Marcellus shale play in southwest Pennsylvania and northwest Virginia.

Consol expects to invest $600 million to develop its Marcellus shale assets in 2013, another $160 million to maintain current natural gas production, and another $122 million in a joint venture with Hess Corp. (NYSE: HES) in the Utica shale play. Investment in natural gas development is expected to total $835 to $935 million.

Net investment in coal operations is forecast at $410 to $520 million, including a $205 million operating lease deal.

The news that a traditional coal company is investing twice as much in natural gas as in coal has pushed down the stocks of most other coal miners. Shares of Peabody Energy Corp. (NYSE: BTU) are down 2.9%, Arch Coal shares are down 2.2%, and Alpha Natural Resources Inc.'s (NYSE: ANR) are down 3.1%, while James River Coal Co. (NASDAQ: JRCC) is down 2.9%, Walter Energy Inc. (NYSE: WLT) is down 2.2%. Cloud Peak Energy Inc. (NYSE: CLD) is up about 1.1% and Consol itself is down 0.8%.

Filed under: 24/7 Wall St. Wire, Commodities Tagged: ACI, ANR, BTU, CLD, CNX, HES, JRCC, NBL, WLT