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Coal Report for April 16, 2014

Coal Report 04-16-14 5m 52sec

the interior of the Huff Creek mine after the fatal accident // image found via MSHA at

Arch Coal has been cited for negligence in the lead-up to the death of a coal miner in Harlan County, Kentucky last year, SNL Financial reports.  Lenny Gilliam, of Appalachia, Va., was killed in August at the Huff Creek No. 1 mine on Black Mountain when a rib collapsed underground.  Arch was retreat mining at Huff Creek, where pillars of coal that hold up the mine roof are systematically removed after mining in a way that allows the operator to retrieve more coal and that, theoretically, allows the mine to collapse in a safe way.  But reportedly, the company had been warned just four months before the fatal accident that retreat mining in this particular section would be unsafe, and the company also reportedly knew about another collapse in the same section that had happened just hours before the fatal accident, and continued mining anyway.  MSHA has now issued two citations to Arch Coal for having failed to follow its approved roof control plan, and for failing to change its plan after it became apparent that conditions were unsafe.  Arch’s fine has not yet been determined.

A proposed new rule that would cut in half the amount of coal dust allowed in mines was based on sound science, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, or GAO.  The Center for Public Integrity reports that this new rule is aimed at curbing black lung, which has been on the rise in recent years, especially in East Kentucky.  In addition to reducing Continue reading Coal Report for April 16, 2014

Coal Report for April 9, 2014

Coal Report 04-09-14 5m 25sec

James River Coal's operations // image from

James River Coal has declared bankruptcy, the Bloomberg news service reports.  James River has been a major player in central Appalachian coal, especially in east Kentucky, but it’s also been on shaky financial footing for several years, and industry analysts have been predicting bankruptcy for some time now.  James River has been harmed by the same conditions hurting central Appalachian coal across the board–local coal is more expensive to mine, natural gas has cut into coal’s market share nationwide, and upcoming emissions regulations are causing many power plants to switch away from coal to gas.  As a result, In east Kentucky alone, James River had already closed seven mines just since September, laying off over 700 people.  The company will continue operations while in bankruptcy, but it’s unclear what will happen to its local mines long-term.  As SNL Financial reports, James River has 24 central Appalachian mines up for sale, 17 of which are in east Kentucky, including the Blue Diamond mines in Letcher, Perry, & Leslie Counties and a surface mine in the Carcassonne area.  The other seven mines up for sale are in southern West Virginia.

Despite James River’s bankruptcy, the Mountain Eagle reports that two other companies with large local coal operations have seen recent increases in their stock price.  Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources both saw their stock worth more this week Continue reading Coal Report for April 9, 2014

Coal Report for April 2, 2014

Coal Report 04-02-14 5m 50sec

an Upper Big Branch memorial // photo found at

After coal is mined, it must be separated from the other minerals it is attached to before it can be burned at power plants.  Traditionally, this has been done with water and a variety of chemicals, some of which are harmful to humans, such as MCHM, the chemical that spilled into the Elk River near Charleston, WV in January, tainting the water of some 300,000 people.  But the West Virginia State Journal reports on a new technology that separates coal without using water or chemicals.  The system, called DriJet, uses x-rays to determine the atomic weight of the coal particles, and then uses air to separate them.  This process is reportedly more efficient than traditional water and chemical treatments and can be done at the mine face, meaning that far less coal would need to be transported in trucks, and its creators say that it reduces the possibility of chemical spills and creates less coal waste overall.  It could also mean that coal could be processed without water all over the world, a huge concern in countries like China or India where water is at a premium.  And because the process is more efficient, it could increase the burn efficiency of coal going to the market wherever it’s used.

Decreased coal use in the US and elsewhere has helped lead to a glut in supply and a drop in price, the Wall Street Journal reports.  Metallurgical coal prices are the lowest they’ve been in eight years, and thermal coal prices are their lowest since Continue reading Coal Report for April 2, 2014

Coal Report for March 26, 2014

Coal Report 03-26-14 5m 58sec

The Gibson Mine // image found at

Another coal miner has been killed on the job.  The Princeton, Indiana Daily Clarion reports that Timothy Memmer, of Princeton, was killed on Tuesday, March 25th at the Gibson mine near Princeton.  The mine is ultimately owned by Alliance Resource Partners, and Memmer was reportedly killed underground after being crushed by a piece of heavy equipment that moved unexpectedly while he was working on it.  This is the third coal fatality in the US this year, and the second to happen at an Alliance Resource Partners mine.  In January, miner Daniel Lambka, who was just 20 years old, was killed at an Alliance mine in West Virginia, also by equipment shifting underground.  And the Gibson mine, where this latest accident happened, is no stranger to fatalities—according to MSHA, 5 miners have been killed there in three separate incidents dating back to 2001.

The Kentucky House and Senate have each passed their own proposed versions of this year’s state budget, and compared with Governor Beshear’s proposed budget, both the House & Senate versions reduce funding for mine safety.  The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that the House budget would cut funding for the state agency that licenses and inspects coal mines by 30%, from $7.6 million to $5.3 million.  And WFPL Radio reports that the Senate version would cut even more, proposing a Continue reading Coal Report for March 26, 2014

Coal Report for March 19, 2014

Coal Report 03-19-14 05m 47sec

(click to embiggen) maps found through the US Dept. of Justice at

Just after Alpha Natural Resources was fined a record $27 million for water pollution violations in Kentucky and four other states, a Kentucky-based coal company was also issued a record fine for the same thing.  The AP reports that Nally & Hamilton Enterprises was fined $660,000 for what the EPA says was the illegal dumping of mine debris into streams near two east Kentucky mines: Doty Creek in Knott County and Fugitt Creek in Harlan County.  The EPA said this violated the Clean Water Act, and that this was one of the largest fines ever given to a Kentucky coal company for violations of environmental laws.  Under this consent decree (read it here), the company must pay the full fine within 180 days, and must restore the stream quality at both sites.  Nally & Hamilton was also fined over $500,000 in 2011 for violations in its water quality reports.

The controversy surrounding the North Carolina coal ash spill continues.  The Raleigh News-Observer reports that the Southern Environmental Law Center has recently released emails that they say show that the state’s Department of Environmental Resources was conspiring with Duke Energy to let the company off with reduced fines after lawsuits were filed Continue reading Coal Report for March 19, 2014

Coal Report for March 12, 2014

Coal Report 03-12-14 6m 00sec

In a record-breaking settlement, Alpha Natural Resources has agreed to pay a $27.5 million dollar fine for some 6,000 violations of water pollution limits at coal mines and prep plants across Appalachia from 2006 to 2013.  As the Charleston Gazette reports, this is the largest fine ever handed out for water pollution violations, and Alpha must also spend $200 million dollars to reduce illegal toxic water pollution from heavy metals and other contaminants at each of its coal operations in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.  Alpha must build and maintain treatment systems at each of their operations to maintain selenium and salinity levels in nearby streams, and the Harlan Daily Enterprise reports that three of these mines are in Harlan County: Cloverlick No.1, Cloverlick No. 3, and the Jarisa Cave Spur mine.

The EPA said “by requiring reforms and a robust compliance program, we are helping to ensure coal mining in Appalachia follows environmental laws that protect public health.” But as the Gazette also reported, while this is a record-breaking fine, Alpha used to be Massey Energy, and Massey was fined $20 million dollars for water pollution violations back in 2008, and at Continue reading Coal Report for March 12, 2014