Also, we are now podcasting! To subscribe to the Coal Report Podcast, either click here to subscribe through Itunes or copy and paste the following url into the podcatcher of your choice: http://www.wmmt.org/archives/category/coal-report/?feed=atom

Coal Report for February 27, 2015

buffalo-creek

a portion of the aftermath of the Buffalo Creek Flood, which happened 43 years ago this week in Logan County, W.Va.

Another American coal miner has been killed on the job, this time in Pennsylvania.  The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that miner Todd Trimble was killed at the Rosebud Mining Company’s Heilwood Mine in Indiana County.  According to MSHA, he was re-positioning roof mesh and was caught between the roof of the mine and the top of the drill canopy when a piece of the roof collapsed onto him.  He became the second coal miner in the US to die on the job this year.  Both fatalities have happened in Pennsylvania.

In other coal news, for the first time since the early 1900’s, there are no union coal miners left working in Kentucky.  WFPL Radio reports that the last union miners in the state lost their jobs on New Year’s Eve when Patriot Coal idled the Highland Mine in Western Kentucky.  In some ways, the decline of the UMWA parallels the decline of labor all over the country since the Reagan Administration—in 1983, 20% of all workers in the US belonged to a labor union, but in 2014, Continue reading Coal Report for February 27, 2015

Coal Report for February 20, 2015

West Va. billionaire & coal operator Jim Justice // photo from Forbes via http://www.forbes.com/profile/jim-justice-ii/

West Va. billionaire & coal operator Jim Justice // photo from Forbes via http://www.forbes.com/profile/jim-justice-ii/

Despite huge losses in the coal industry in our region in recent years, things could get even worse in 2015, according to The Mountain Eagle.  The Eagle summarizes a report from Energy & Environment News where one analyst said this year could be the “worst year in years.”  Two coal companies with local operations have taken huge losses: just in the last quarter of last year, Alpha Natural Resources lost $122 million, and Arch Coal lost $371 million.  And those companies will likely continue to cut back in 2015.  Alpha idled several West Virginia mines last year, causing massive layoffs, and more layoffs are likely to come.  Arch said its central Appalachian output could fall this year to a low that is “unprecedented.”  Coal use across the country is projected to drop by 50 million tons this year, and with coal prices depressed all over the world, especially in the metallurgical coal market, exports haven’t been able to pick up the slack the way many in the industry had hoped.

Speaking of metallurgical coal, billionaire coal operator Jim Justice has bought back–for just pennies on the dollar–a West Virginia coal company that he sold just a few years ago.  According to the Charleston Gazette, the company is Bluestone Coal, which isn’t operating at the moment but owns metallurgical coal mines, reserves, and complexes in McDowell & Continue reading Coal Report for February 20, 2015

Coal Report for February 13, 2015

future-gen

a rendering of the FutureGen carbon-capture coal-fired power plant that had been under construction in Meredrosia, Ill. // photo via wikipedia at http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/55/Futuregen_DOE_Concept_art.jpg

Because the market for central Appalachian coal has continued to weaken, the sale price of TECO Coal has been reduced by $30 million, The Mountain Eagle reports.  TECO Coal is the parent company of Perry County Coal, Premier Coal, and Pike-Letcher Coal Partners, all of which operate locally.   The operations are ultimately owned by TECO Energy, which operates utilities in Florida and New Mexico.  But TECO has been trying to get out of the coal business, and agreed last year to sell TECO Coal to the Martin County-based Booth Energy.  TECO had asked for $170 million, but because the market for local has continued to slide, TECO agreed to cut its asking price down to $140 million instead.  And Booth Energy will actually only have to pay $80 million of that cost up front, with the other $60 million only being paid if certain production levels are reached.  So it could end up that TECO Coal ultimately gets sold for less than half of the original asking price.

The Charleston Gazette reports that Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has filed a lawsuit against Alpha Natural Resources, because Alpha announced that it won’t be paying any of Blankenship’s current or upcoming legal fees. Blankenship will stand trial on April 20 for four counts relating to the Upper Big Branch Disaster of 2010.  Blankenship is suing Alpha because he claims that when Alpha bought Massey in 2011, they agreed to cover future legal costs that Continue reading Coal Report for February 13, 2015

Coal Report for February 4, 2015

In his newly-proposed federal budget, President Obama has allocated $1 billion to help Appalachian communities who have been hard-hit by the downturn in the coal industry. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that the money would come from the federal Abandoned Mine Lands, or AML fund, and it would go toward a variety of coal mine reclamation projects. The $1 billion would be disbursed over a period of five years, and would not require any tax increases. The idea, roughly, seems to be to clean up some of the many issues from old mine sites that have long affected the health & economy of Appalachian coalfield communities, and give local people employment in the process. The AML fund, where the money would come from, is a federal pot of money funded by a tax on every ton of coal that’s mined. It has had billions in it for years, but critics have said that too little of that money ever actually gets spent. So this plan is intended to free up some of that money for reclamation work in communities that need it–and employment–the most.

The Herald also reports (see link above) that President Obama also allocated even more money for Appalachia in his proposed budget, including tens of millions for job training programs for laid off miners and entrepreneurship assistance programs, and nearly $100 million more for infrastructure projects in the region.  He also propposed $2 billion in tax credits for the development of new carbon capture & storage technology that could reduce the pollution from burning coal at power plants. And the budget would also help keep afloat the healthcare & pension funds of some 100,000 retired coal miners and their families. This proposed budget faces a difficult road in Congress, however. Despite the potential assistance for Appalachian kentucky, Senator Mitch McConnell and Rep. Hal Rogers both expressed disapproval for the Continue reading Coal Report for February 4, 2015

Coal Report for January 23, 2015

WV coal miner Tommy Davis, who lost 3 family members, including a son, in the Upper Big Branch disaster, speaks to the WV House of Delegates on a bill that would make it more difficult to sue companies for incidents/injuries that lead to Workers’ Compensation benefits // photo from the WV Legislature, found via https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152771459923347.1073741854.110270818346&type=3

Hard times continue for east Kentucky coal. The Harlan Daily Enterprise reports that two Harlan County coal companies have given some 95 employees notice that they could soon be laid off.  The companies are Fox Knob Coal and JAD Coal, both of which share the same management, in the town of Coldiron, Ky.  The warning was issued on January 5th, and said that workers could start to be laid off on January 23rd. The Federal WARN act, though, typically requires a 60-day notice for warning workers.  The company said the warning was given so last-minute because of “unforeseeable business circumstances.”  Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley called the layoffs “disappointing,” and said “It’s never been more important. . . we have to be looking at ways to diversify our economy.”  The companies expect these layoffs to be permanent.

Even though the coal picture in central Appalachia continues to look bleak, with analysts saying the industry is not likely to bounce back in our region, coal still accounted for 39 percent of electricity nationwide from 2013 to 2014, far more than any other power source.  And Energy & Environment News reports that even with new emissions rules at power plants, by the year 2030, coal is still projected to generate 31 percent of electricity in the US, with natural gas accounting for 32 percent.  That’s still a huge drop in coal’s market share—10 years ago, coal accounted for some 50% of US electricity.  But in this report, an industry analyst said that more than anything else, “natural gas prices are having the biggest impact on coal consumption. If natural gas prices hadn’t dropped that much, it would be a completely different ballgame.”  Despite what many in the industry have called a “war on coal” that they say has been waged by the EPA, Fred Continue reading Coal Report for January 23, 2015

Coal Report for January 14, 2015

photo from MSHA of a continuous miner // found via http://www.msha.gov/media/press/2015/nr-0113.asp

The Obama Administration’s Mine Safety & Health Administration has issued a long-awaited rule that will require that “proximity detection” systems be installed on all continuous mining machines underground to protect miners. Continuous miners are huge, and dangerous—they can weigh 60 tons and use sharp, spinning blades to cut coal. And The Mountain Eagle reports that these machines have been responsible for 35 deaths in US coal mines since 1984, including Arthur Gelentser, who was killed at the Dominion No. 30 mine last February in Buchanan County, Virginia. Proximity detection technology automatically shuts these machines off if miners are detected to be nearby. The new rule requires that these systems be placed immediately on all newly-built continuous miners, and all existing continuous miners must have them installed within 3 years. Other types of heavy equipment underground are still exempt, though. The federal rule proved necessary because individual states had been slow to act on their own—as the Charleston Gazette reports, the state of West Virginia stalled for years on a proximity detection rule until finally issuing one last year under intense pressure from mine safety advocates and family members of miners who were killed.

According to SNL Energy, the vast majority of US mine closures in 2014 took place in central Appalachia, particularly southern West Virginia, more evidence that local coal is having a hard time competing in the current marketplace. Many of the mines that closed last year were metallurgical coal mines, which have been suffering worldwide from a global Continue reading Coal Report for January 14, 2015