In a November 2012 report that received significant attention in the media, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted that the United States will be nearly energy self-sufficient by the year 2035. Justifications for this claim include reports of declining oil consumption, the unlocking of natural gas resources through new technologies, and overall increases in U.S. energy production. As natural gas becomes more inexpensive and renewable energy sources continue to increase in usage, the energy mix in the United States (and other countries) is expected to change. The IEA estimates that 40 percent of world electricity generation was fueled by coal in 2011. Coal is the only major energy source for which the United States demonstrates a trade surplus. In 2011, the last calendar year for which data are available, the United States exported more than $16 billion worth of coal, while importing only slightly less than $3 billion in coal. Furthermore, coal is expected to remain one of the largest fuel sources in worldwide energy consumption for at least the next two decades. Second only to oil in meeting the energy needs of the world, coal generates more electricity for the United States and the world than any other single fuel.
With the key role that coal currently plays in the U.S. trade balance, and is expected to play in the future, it is interesting to look at recent volatile export price movements of this important U.S. resource.