Story by Chris Lawrence, MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore has had a ripple effect in West Virginia.

With the bridge in the water and the search for missing workers still underway, shipping in and out of the Baltimore Harbor is at a standstill.

Chris Hamilton

The port, although not comparably large overall, is one of the largest coal export facilities in the nation. Consol Energy owns a shipping terminal within Baltimore Harbor. The idling of all shipping traffic in or out of the harbor is of grave concern to West Virginia coal producers.

“We’re only a couple of days into it, but it’s extremely concerning to those producers who leave out of Baltimore and that represents about 25 to 30 percent of our state’s total export product,” said Chris Hamilton, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.

The West Virginia coal shipped to the Baltimore Harbor is hauled by rail. Hamilton was unsure if there were firm plans in place to divert the product to other ports. He indicated the change would not be an easy one.

Erica Fisher

“That’s a possibility with some of it, but not the total amount. That process is going to have to start here in West Virginia closer to the mine level. I don’t know if the other transportation system, particularly the rail to go to other ports, would be that nimble to make that adjustment,” he said.

Officials at Consol Energy are examining the situation which remained fluid since there is no timeline at this point when the shipping will resume.

“We have initiated discussions with our customers and contingency plans are being implemented. These plans include, but are not limited to, the ability to move coal tons through open terminals on the East Coast and increasing domestic shipments,” wrote Consol spokesperson Erica Fisher in an email exchange with MetroNews.

Hamilton said some mines may be able to stockpile some of the coal they are currently producing, but added that may also be problematic since a mild winter had left a lot of coal in storage already and limited space to put it for the time being.

“What we’re hearing is this could be anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, so there’s a wide range of scenarios,” he said.