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New US rule may let some shippers swap railroads

  • : Agriculture, Biofuels, Chemicals, Coal, Coking coal, Crude oil, Fertilizers, Metals, Oil products, Petrochemicals, Petroleum coke
  • 24/04/30

US rail regulators today issued a final rule designed to help customers switch railroads in cases of poor rail service, but it is already drawing mixed reviews.

Reciprocal switching, which allows freight shippers or receivers captive to a single railroad to access to an alternate carrier, has been allowed under US Surface Transportation Board (STB) rules. But shippers had not used existing STB rules to petition for reciprocal switching in 35 years, prompting regulators to revise rules to encourage shippers to pursue switching while helping resolve service problems.

"The rule adopted today has broken new ground in the effort to provide competitive options in an extraordinarily consolidated rail industry," said outgoing STB chairman Martin Oberman.

The five-person board unanimously approved a rule that would allow the board to order a reciprocal switching agreement if a facility's rail service falls below specified levels. Orders would be for 3-5 years.

"Given the repeated episodes of severe service deterioration in recent years, and the continuing impediments to robust and consistent rail service despite the recent improvements accomplished by Class I carriers, the board has chosen to focus on making reciprocal switching available to shippers who have suffered service problems over an extended period of time," Oberman said today.

STB commissioner Robert Primus voted to approve the rule, but also said it did not go far enough.

The rule adopted today is "unlikely to accomplish what the board set out to do" since it does not cover freight moving under contract, he said.

"I am voting for the final rule because something is better than nothing," Primus said. But he said the rule also does nothing to address competition in the rail industry.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) is reviewing the 154-page final rule, but carriers have been historically opposed to reciprocal switching proposals.

"Railroads have been clear about the risks of expanded switching and the resulting slippery slope toward unjustified market intervention," AAR said.

But the trade group was pleased that STB rejected "previous proposals that amounted to open access," which is a broad term for proposals that call for railroads to allow other carriers to operate over their tracks.

The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association declined to comment but has indicated it does not expect the rule to have an appreciable impact on shortline traffic, service or operations.

Today's rule has drawn mixed reactions from some shipper groups.

The National Industrial Transportation League (NITL), which filed its own reciprocal switching proposal in 2011, said it was encouraged by the collection of service metrics required under the rule.

But "it is disheartened by its narrow scope as it does not appear to apply to the vast majority of freight rail traffic that moves under contracts or is subject to commodity exemptions," said NITL executive director Nancy O'Liddy, noting it was a departure from the group's original petition which sought switching as a way to facilitate railroad economic competitiveness.

The Chlorine Institute said, in its initial analysis, that it does not "see significant benefit for our shipper members since it excludes contract traffic which covers the vast majority of chlorine and other relevant chemical shipments."


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24/07/22

European sulphuric acid market squeezed on outages

European sulphuric acid market squeezed on outages

London, 22 July (Argus) — The European sulphuric acid market is going through a period of tight supply following outages at smelters and lower production rates at sulphur burners, which have impacted overall availability of acid in the domestic market. The industry is working on a week-by-week basis as availability remains variable because of lack of availability from smelters and lower availability of molten sulphur impacting sulphur burner operations. As a result, sellers and distributors face uncertainty as the volatile supply has resulted in order cancellations as they cannot guarantee quantities to their offtakers further than two weeks ahead for both types of acid, in some cases. The supply shortage has been reflected in an increase in the third-quarter contract settlements for both smelter and sulphur-burnt acid, which settled on 18 July. Smelter-based acid contracts for the third quarter rose by around €10-15/t on the previous quarter, while third-quarter sulphur-burnt acid contracts rose by €30-40/t on the previous quarter. There are concerns in the domestic market that start-up issues at a key supplier in northwest Europe will tighten availability further. Aurubis' Hamburg plant — which produces high-quality acid — faced problems following its return from maintenance on 11 July. The smelter had been off line undergoing heavy maintenance since early May. The shortfall in smelter acid from the Aurubis closure could in turn have a knock-on effect on refinery sulphur production by limiting availability of higher grade sulphuric acid for the alkylation process. It is not yet clear how long production at the plant could be curtailed, but it has further squeezed the market of high-quality sulphuric acid. Overall, the market is likely to be short of supply in July and into the first half of August with industry sources concerned about the limited supply to cover the requirements for the domestic industry. By Lili Minton Send comments and request more information at feedback@argusmedia.com Copyright © 2024. Argus Media group . All rights reserved.

Iraq begins importing Turkish power to cut crude burn


24/07/22
24/07/22

Iraq begins importing Turkish power to cut crude burn

Dubai, 22 July (Argus) — Iraq's prime minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani on Sunday inaugurated a power transmission line connecting the country's northern region with Turkey, one of several steps Baghdad is taking to tackle its gruelling electricty outages and to reduce its dependence on burning crude in its power plants. The 115km line connects to a power station west of Mosul and will supply 300MW to the northern provinces of Nineveh, Salahuddin and Kirkuk during peak loads. Delayed for two decades, the project is part of Iraq's strategy to connect to neighbouring grids and "integrate into the regional energy system, allowing for diversity and exchange under various peak load conditions", al-Sudani said. Iraq sits on massive oil reserves and is Opec's second-largest producer but it remains heavily reliant on electricity and gas imports from neighbouring countries. The US-led military invasion in 2003, the emergence of the Islamic State and record levels of corruption have all contributed to the underdevelopment of vital infrastructure in Iraq. Power outages during the summer have been a source of political turmoil often causing massive protests. Data provided by Iraq's oil ministry indicate the country burned an average of 120,000 b/d of crude in its power plants in the first half of this year. Figures from the Joint Organisations Data Initiative (Jodi) suggest Iraq's direct crude burn averaged 185,000 b/d in 2023. Earlier this year, Iraq agreed a five-year gas supply agreement with Iran for up to 50mn m³/d. Baghdad also began benefitting from 40MW of electricity supply from Jordan through a newly-established power line that became operational at the beginning of April. And it aims to "complete the connection with the Gulf Co-operation Council electric grid by the end of this year", al-Sudani said. Iraq's oil ministry said the plan is to reduce crude burn at its power stations. Baghdad said the measures will also help it to adhere to its Opec+ crude production commitments . Iraq has exceeded its Opec+ output target every month this year, and as the group's least compliant member it agreed in May to make additional cuts to compensate for prior overproduction. By Bachar Halabi Send comments and request more information at feedback@argusmedia.com Copyright © 2024. Argus Media group . All rights reserved.

Vietnam’s 1H 2024 coal imports hit all-time high


24/07/22
24/07/22

Vietnam’s 1H 2024 coal imports hit all-time high

Singapore, 22 July (Argus) — Vietnam's coal imports reached an all-time high in the first half of this year despite an on-year drop in seaborne receipts in June from a relatively high base last year. A growth in seaborne receipts led by strong utility demand took Vietnam's coal imports to 33.43mn t in January-June, up from 24.1mn t in the same period last year, according to customs data. Vietnamese customs data do not differentiate between coking and thermal coal. The imports in the first half of this year hit the highest level since Vietnam imported 30.61mn t in January-June 2020, according to Argus' analysis of the customs data. Imports were at 6.36mn t in June, down from a revised 7.21mn t a year earlier and 6.5mn t in May . This was the first year-on-year drop in imports since January last year. Vietnam's strong imports in the first half of the year comes amid heatwaves in the region, which has boosted power consumption and coal-burn at utilities. Vietnam is leading the growth in imports in the southeast Asian region, a trend that is helping to partly offset a lukewarm demand trend in China — the biggest coal importer in the world. Vietnam could end up importing over 66mn t of coal this year at the current average rate of 5.57mn t/month, according to Argus calculations. This could be the country's highest annual imports since the 55mn t of coal it received in 2020, and up from 51.16mn t in 2023. The on-year dip in imports in June came from a high base a year earlier when strong demand from utilities took the monthly imports to a record high. The dip also came as the coal-fired generation dropped to 12.37TWh in June from 17.08TWh in May this year, while the hydro-power generation more than doubled to 9.55TWh last month on a month-on-month basis, according to Argus calculations based on the data from state-owned utility EVN. The country's coal-fired generation, which accounted for 57pc of overall generation in January-June, could come under pressure on a steady uptick in hydropower output, owing to heavy rains in some parts of the country. Overall generation rose by about 12pc on the year to 151.7TWH in the first half of the year, while coal-fired generation reached 86.34TWh, up from 66.76TWh a year earlier, EVN data show. Hydropower generation was at 28.63TWh during the period, down from 29.83TWh a year earlier, according to the EVN data. Vietnam's northern regions may face heavy rains until 24 July as typhoon Prapiroon heads towards Vietnam after making a landfall in south China's Hainan, according to the country's National Centre for Hydrometeorological Forecasting. Coal-fired generation rose to cater for higher electricity consumption resulting from continued economic recovery and an uptick in air-conditioning demand. Power demand continues to grow, and the peak capacity of the national power system reached 49.53GW on 19 June, up from 45.53GW a year earlier, it said. Peak capacity might increase further to over 52GW this month, it added. Authorities have directed EVN and state-owned coal producers to ensure stable supplies to meet the increased power consumption. The uptick in power consumption and coal demand during the first six months and during the second quarter of the year was also supported by an increase in economic activity. Vietnam's GDP grew by 6.93pc in April-June from a year earlier. The increase in receipts of seaborne coal also followed softness in international coal prices, especially for coal from Vietnam's preferred origins — Indonesia and Australia. Argus assessed Indonesian GAR 4,200 kcal/kg coal at $52.38/t fob Kalimantan on 19 July, with the price of the grade recovering from a 10-month low of $52.07/t on 12 July. Argus assessed the Australian NAR 5,500 kcal/kg coal market at $87.61/t fob Newcastle on 19 July, down from $96.59/t fob Newcastle on 1 March — the highest value for the grade in the year to date. Power saving EVN has advised local authorities, businesses, commercial and residential consumers to ensure economical and efficient use of electricity. It has asked commercial units and households to reduce consumption, and advised them to not set air-conditioner temperatures below 26-27°C. Vietnamese authorities have asked power consumers to pay special attention to electricity usage during peak hours between 11:00am to 3:00pm local time (04:00-08:00 GMT) and 7:00pm to 11:00pm. By Saurabh Chaturvedi Vietnam's coal imports (mn t) Vietnam's Jan-June generation mix (TWh) Send comments and request more information at feedback@argusmedia.com Copyright © 2024. Argus Media group . All rights reserved.

South32 misses Australian coking coal output target


24/07/22
24/07/22

South32 misses Australian coking coal output target

Sydney, 22 July (Argus) — Australian-South African diversified resources company South32 was 2pc off its coking coal production target of 4.4mn t at its Australian Illawarra coal operations in the 2023-24 fiscal year to 30 June. The firm is on track to complete the sale of its Illawarra operations in New South Wales (NSW) state by the end of September, marking its exit from coal as it focuses on its non-ferrous metal portfolio. It completed three and started a fourth longwall move at the Appin and Dendrobium mines, leaving new owner Golden Energy and Resources and M Resources with a lower maintenance burden into 2025. South32's total coal production was down by 24pc in 2023-24 compared with the previous year, largely because of maintenance. The firm increased production in the fourth quarter and final half of 2023-24 after a weak first half but the quarter was still down by 15pc on April-June 2023. South32 expects its costs for 2023-24 to be around $150/t, which is in line with its guidance, which was raised from $140/t in February. It received an average price for its Illawarra coal of $275/t for its metallurgical coal and $113/t for its thermal coal for January-June compared with $276/t and $101/t respectively in July-December 2023. The firm's operating margins at its Illawarra metallurgical coal operations were $17/t on thermal coal and $152/t on metallurgical coal in 2022-23 when its operating costs were $127/t. It will release its 2023-24 results on 29 August. Argus last assessed the premium hard coking coal price at $229/t fob Australia on 19 July, down from $334.50/t on 19 January and close to the $235.50/t on 19 July 2023. It assessed the high-grade 6,000 kcal/kg NAR thermal coal price at $134.87/t fob Newcastle on 19 July, up from $128.09/t on 19 January and down from $129.18/t on 19 January 2023. South32 last year dropped plans for a $700mn expansion at Dendrobium, following a dispute with NSW's water agency over its potential impact on water quality . Dendrobium, which supplies coking coal to the Whyalla steelworks in South Australia and exports from NSW's Port Kembla coal terminal, is expected to close in 2028. By Jo Clarke South32 Illawarra Coal output (mn t) Apr-Jun '24 Jan-Mar '24 Apr-Jun '23 2023-24 2022-23 2023-24 guidance Met coal production 1.27 1.24 1.50 4.31 5.50 4.40 Met coal sales 1.36 1.05 1.53 4.17 5.40 Thermal coal production 0.21 0.16 0.25 0.63 1.02 0.60 Thermal coal sales 0.18 0.19 0.17 0.70 0.96 Total production 1.49 1.41 1.75 4.94 6.52 5.50 Source: South32 Send comments and request more information at feedback@argusmedia.com Copyright © 2024. Argus Media group . All rights reserved.

Biden abandons bid for re-election: Update


24/07/21
24/07/21

Biden abandons bid for re-election: Update

Updates with reaction Washington, 21 July (Argus) — President Joe Biden has dropped his bid for a second term and is endorsing vice president Kamala Harris to serve as his party's presidential nominee, bowing to pressure from top Democrats who no longer saw a viable path for him to defeat former president Donald Trump in the November election. Biden committed to serve out the remainder of his term, which ends on 20 January 2025. Biden's abrupt withdrawal from the presidential race will leave it up to Democratic delegates to decide who will become their nominee by no later than the Democratic National Convention on 19-22 August. "While it has been my intention to seek re-election, I believe it is in the best interest of my party and the country for me to stand down and to focus solely on fulfilling my duties as president for the remainder of my term," Biden wrote in a letter posted on the social media site X. In calling for Democrats to rally around Harris as the nominee, Biden said he was giving his "full support and endorsement" of Harris and urged Democrats to "come together and beat Trump". Other top voices in the Democratic Party have called for a "mini-primary" to allow a new candidate to emerge, but doing so could run the risk of a protracted and politically risky intraparty fight. Trump, who has spent years attacking Biden's mental competency and age, said in a post today on Truth Social that Biden is not "fit to run for President" and had never been capable to lead the country. Other Republican leaders urged Biden to resign from the White House, which would lead to Harris being sworn in as president. "If Joe Biden is not fit to run for president, he is not fit to serve as president," US House of Representatives speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) said in a post on X. "He must resign the office immediately." House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York) called Biden "one of the most accomplished and consequential leaders in American history". Jeffries did not explicitly endorse Harris. The Democratic revolt against Biden staying in the race followed the first presidential debate last month, when Biden often appeared feeble and confused and struggled to clearly articulate his policy positions. Biden called the debate "a stupid mistake" and blamed it on his busy travel and work schedule. But efforts by Biden and his campaign to reach out to Democratic lawmakers and donors have failed to assuage their concerns. Trump has also made polling gains in must-win battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, and even threatened to be competitive in typically Democratic strongholds such as New Jersey. Biden is the first sitting US president since Lyndon Johnson in 1968 to prematurely end his re-election campaign. Biden said he would speak "in more detail" later this week about his decision. The Trump campaign had already started preparing for the possibility that Biden would drop out of the race after the presidential debate last month. Last week, a senior adviser for the Trump campaign declined to set a date for the vice presidential debate, saying it would be "unfair" to "whoever Kamala Harris picks as her running mate", in a taunting reference to the uncertainty of Biden's candidacy. By Chris Knight and Haik Gugarats Send comments and request more information at feedback@argusmedia.com Copyright © 2024. Argus Media group . All rights reserved.

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