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Coal Report for October 15, 2014

a coal train in the Pacific Northwest. a logjam in railroad traffic is causing delays of coal shipments across the country // photo from Paul K. Anderson at

A West Virginia man has pleaded guilty to falsifying water quality reports for coal companies, the Charleston Gazette reports.  John W. Shelton, of Raleigh County, W.Va., worked for a company called Appalachian Laboratories, which analyzes water samples for coal companies under the federal Clean Water Act to make sure pollution laws are being followed.  But Shelton admitted to taking part in a conspiracy to falsify water samples that supposedly came from mining sites.  He admitted to diluting water samples with distilled water, switching out entire samples of water from coal sites with water he knew to be clean, and failing to keep water samples refrigerated.  US Attorneys said this was done to allow coal companies to avoid fines, and to ensure repeat business for Appalachian Laboratories.  They are continuing their investigation. The whole case raises questions about the Clean Water Act.  One attorney said “The whole Clean Water Act system relies on self reporting. . . If that self-reporting can’t be trusted, then the system just falls apart.”  Appalachian Laboratories does testing for over 100 mine sites in West Virginia, but it’s not known yet which mines were involved in this case.  Shelton faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Coal-fired power plants continue to experience problems actually getting coal due to delays in railroad service, SNL Energy reports.  According to an Arch Coal executive, last year’s frigid winter led to an increase in coal demand, but operators have found themselves unable to actually supply more coal because of railroad delays across the country, and analysts think these Continue reading Coal Report for October 15, 2014

Coal Report for October 8, 2014

the Boundary Dam Power Plant in Saskatchewan, Canada, the first commercial coal-fired plant to use carbon capture & storage technology // image via wikipedia at

A coal miner has been killed on the job in Kentucky.  WYMT-TV reports that Justin Mize, of Harrogate, Tennessee, was killed on Tuesday, October 7th in a rock collapse at the Tinsley Branch mine in Bell County, Ky.  According to MSHA’s preliminary report, he was crushed by a falling rock at a highwall mining site.  The mine is ultimately owned by Nally & Hamilton Enterprises, a coal operator based in Bardstown, Ky.  Mize became the 12th coal miner killed on the job in the US this year, and the first in Kentucky.

News of this latest tragedy comes just days after MSHA announced that the number of mines with serious and chronic safety violations has decreased sharply in recent years.  The AP reports that in 2010, in response to the Upper Big Branch disaster, MSHA began putting repeat and serious offenders on a Pattern of Violations, or POV, list, which meant that portions of a mine could be immediately shut down if more so-called significant and substantial safety violations were found.  MSHA says that Continue reading Coal Report for October 8, 2014

Coal Report for October 1, 2014

an old flooded coal mine in British Columbia, Canada. some researchers think flooded mines could be a renewable energy source for geothermal heating & cooling systems. // photo by Gerry Thomasen, via

A subsidiary of Patriot Coal has been cited in the deaths of two coal miners in West Virginia earlier this year, the Charleston Gazette reports.  On May 12th, a section of mine wall collapsed at the Brody No. 1 mine in Boone County, West Virginia, killing miners Eric D. Legg and Gary P. Hensley.  The company was retreat mining at the time, when pillars of coal are removed from an area after it has been mined out, which theoretically allows the mine to collapse in a safe way. But the section where the fatality happened had been the site of another wall collapse just three days before, on May 9th, which caused a miner to be buried in coal up to his waist.  The company did not report that incident to state mine safety officials.  Afterwards, some employees did express concern that the section was unsafe, but the company kept mining there anyhow, which led to the fatal collapse.  Even before these incidents, the Brody mine had a long history of unsafe conditions and failing to report accidents–MSHA found 253 significant and substantial violations at Brody just in 2013, and designated the mine as having a large-scale Pattern of Violations.  The exact fine Patriot Coal will pay hasn’t yet been set, but the company was cited for failing to support the mine roof and wall, and for failing to report the first collapse.

After issuing notice earlier this summer that some 1100 West Virginia miners at 11 mines across the state might soon be laid off, Alpha Natural Resources has confirmed that some of those layoffs have begun.  The Charleston Gazette reports that Alpha has idled the Twilight surface mine in Boone County and the Ewing Fork No. 1 mine in Kanawha & Fayette counties, Continue reading Coal Report for October 1, 2014

Coal Report for September 24, 2014

the loadout at Murray Energy's West Ridge Mine, near Price, Utah. The mine was the site of a fatal accident this month. // photo via the Utah Geological Survey at

Two more coal miners have been killed in the US in September.  The Charleston Gazette reports that first, on September 15th, 53-year-old Barry Duncan was killed at the Manchester Mine in Walker County, Alabama, which is operated by Black Warrior Minerals.  According to MSHA, Duncan was killed when a bulldozer he was operating fell off the edge of a highwall.

The very next day, another coal miner was killed in Utah.  The initial MSHA report says that 46-year-old Alejandro Ramirez was killed at the West Ridge Mine in central Utah after being crushed by heavy equipment that he had been operating underground.  The mine is ultimately owned by Murray Energy. After these latest accidents, 11 coal miners have now died on the job in the U.S. this year.

In other news, according to a new study, rates of serious black lung disease in Kentucky and across Appalachia are higher than they have been since the early 1970′s.  According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, progressive massive fibrosis, an advanced kind of black lung disease that has no cure, was all but wiped out as recently as 15 years ago. But a new study, undertaken by Continue reading Coal Report for September 24, 2014

Coal Report for September 17, 2014

Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray. Murray is the target of a new lawsuit alleging he forced employees to make political contributions. // image found via

More coal layoffs are probably in store for West Virginia. Patriot Coal has issued a notice of potential layoffs for its employees at the Corridor G Complex in Boone County. The complex includes the Hobet 21 surface mine and the Beth Station preparation plant and employs 360 people. A statement from the company blames, “EPA regulations, mild summer weather, and low natural gas prices.” The Charleston Gazette reports that Governor Tomblin and Representative Nick Rahall issued statements blaming the Environmental Protection Agency for the layoffs and holding out the prospect that an economic recovery in the US could build demand for Appalachian coal. Gazette writer Ken Ward notes, however, that many analyses of the coal market have said that Appalachian coal is not likely to recover no matter what the EPA does or does not do.

The West Virginia mining industry will celebrate its past, present, and future at the 2014 Miners’ Celebration at Tamarack, near Beckley, reports the Charleston Daily Mail. The event will take place Thursday, October 2. Organizers will present Continue reading Coal Report for September 17, 2014

Coal Report for August 28, 2014

"Blair Mountain Fighting" by Charleston Gazette - (originally published in the Charleston Gazette, 10 September 1921. Via Wikipedia.)

Another coal miner was recently killed on the job, this time close to home, in southwest Virginia.  SNL Energy reports that Michael Justice, who was 41 years old, was killed at CONSOL Energy’s Buchanan Mine in Buchanan County, Virginia.  He was a maintenance supervisor underground.  Initial reports suggested that he was electrocuted, and CONSOL said he had been repairing a roof bolting machine just before the accident.  The Buchanan Mine produces more coal than any other mine in central Appalachia, but this is the fourth fatality at the mine since 2004.  Overall, this marks the ninth coal fatality in the US this year and the second in Virginia.

Back in April, after several rounds of closures and layoffs, James River Coal declared bankruptcy. James River was heavily invested in central Appalachian coal, and fell victim to an issue faced by many local operators—because it’s so much more expensive to mine, central Appalachian coal has struggled.  Since declaring bankruptcy, the company has been looking to sell off assets, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports this week that a judge has approved the sale of several James River complexes. Blackhawk Mining, which is based in Lexington, will buy the Hampden Complex in West Virginia, the Continue reading Coal Report for August 28, 2014