Consolidation Coal Co. announced yesterday that it is considering buying facilities in the Port of Baltimore and building a huge coal-shipping plant that could double coal exports from the port.

Consolidation, the mining subsidiary of Conoco Inc., said it is negotiating to purchase the Canton Marine Terminal, including the Canton Railroad Co.

The coal company could pay as much as $25 million for the facilities -- depending on what it buys -- and would invest at least that much more in new equipment, a company official said.

The facilities planned by Consolidation could handle 10 million tons of coal a year, as much as 200 shiploads, said Jarvis B. Cecil, Consolidation executive vice president.

The Port of Baltimore shipped 9.14 million tons of coal last year, accounting for about half of exports from the Maryland harbor.

As a coal export port, Baltimore ranks far behind Hampton Roads, which led the nation with exports of 32 million tons last year.

Consolidation shipped more than 5.6 million tons of coal from Hampton Roads last year and is considering facilities in Baltimore so it can expand its coal exports, said Dennis O'Neil, Consolidation's director for public relations.

He said a decision on whether to go ahead with the Baltimore project will be made in the next two months. It would take as long as two years to construct coal-loading facilities.

If the project goes ahead, Consolidation will ask the Baltimore City Council to issue industrial revenue bonds to finance the purchase and development of the port.

The construction work would produce a large number of jobs, but operation of the automated facilities would require relatively few people, O'Neil said. o

Consolidation's coal mines are primarily in northern West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania. Rail access from those areas to Baltimore is the main reason for locating expanded facilities there, the spokesman said.

The Canton Marine Terminal is the largest privately owned facility in the Port of Baltimore, but isn't as large as the government-operated terminals. Canton Co. of Baltimore is controlled by Pacific Holding Corp., which is owned by David H. Murdock of Los Angeles. Canton officials couldn't be reached for comment yesterday.

The property Consolidation is looking at includes the bulk-cargo facilities at the Canton terminal, several docks, including Canton's ore pier, nearby land and the Canton Railroad. The railroad links the Canton facilities and some other port property with major rail lines.

O'Neil said Consolidation anticipates it will need the additional facilities for increased exports of steam coal, the kind used to heat buildings or fuel boilers.

Most of the United States' coal exports are metallurgical coal, which is used in steel-making.

Steam-coal exports are increasing, however, because many other nations are turning to coal to replace increasingly costly imported oil.

The facilities Consolidation is considering include mamoth rotary car dumpers that can tip over a carload of coal and empty it in less than a minute. d

The volume Consolidation hopes to export eventually could reach a shipload every two days, but smaller shipments are expected at first.