Wyoming’s long-held dream of exporting Powder River Basin coal from a West Coast terminal was recently dashed when the project’s owner filed for bankruptcy and failed to find an interested buyer.
Lighthouse Resources Inc. petitioned for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Dec. 3. The company owns the Decker coal mine in Montana, just north of Wyoming’s border, and over 75 employees lost their jobs last month.
Roughly a decade ago, Lighthouse Resources hatched an ambitious plan to construct the West Coast coal export terminal. The port on the Columbia River in Longview, Washington, would be able to receive about 16 trainloads of high-grade Powder River Basin coal on a daily basis, destined for markets in Asia, the company promised. So, when Lighthouse Resources filed for bankruptcy late last year, it intended to find a new buyer for the project, according to court documents. But over the past two months no bidder materialized.
Therefore, Lighthouse Resources petitioned the court on Friday to reject its land lease. A company called Northwest Alloys has been leasing the property to Lighthouse Resources. The coal operator also wants out of its contract with the property owner.
Lighthouse Resources declined to comment. But in court documents, attorneys for the bankrupt company said keeping up with the facility’s costs — where it owns “buildings, improvements, equipment, rolling stock, and vehicles” — was no longer feasible.
“If anyone wanted to build a new coal port at the site, they’d have to renegotiate every one of those contracts,” Clark Williams-Derry, an energy finance analyst for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, told the Star-Tribune by email. “If Northwest Alloys wanted to build a coal port here, they’d have to start from scratch. If the judge approves this motion, I think the project should be considered completely dead,” he said.