Peabody Energy, the nation's largest coal miner, filed for bankruptcy protection Wednesday as a crosscurrent of environmental, technological and economic changes wreak havoc across the industry.
The company's bankruptcy filing comes less than three months after Arch Coal, the country's second-largest miner, filed for bankruptcy, on the heals of bankruptcy filings from Alpha Natural Resources, Patriot Coal and Walter Energy. Peabody makes most of its money by selling its coal to major utilities that power the nation's electric grid. The financial well-being of Peabody, whose stock has been halved in just the last year, has been in decline since 2011, said James Gellert, CEO of Rapid Ratings International, a New York firm that evaluates default risks. New drilling techniques allowed U.S. energy companies to free enormous amounts of natural gas, driving prices lower. The result of those plunging prices and changing environmental regulations has pushed major utilities to choose natural gas over coal to power electric grids. Peabody was founded in Chicago, and moved to downtown St. Louis in 1957. Peabody had about 7,600 employees at the end of last year and has ownership stakes in 26 mines in the U.S. and Australia including mines in Illinois.