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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

Coal Report for August 6, 2014

the Twilight Surface Mine surrounding the Jarrell Family Cemetery. The Twilight Mine is one of many affected by recent layoff notices in West Virginia. // Photo from Vivian Stockman;, and found via Flyover courtesy of

More coal mine layoffs are likely to hit central Appalachia, this time in West Virginia.  The Charleston Gazette reports that Alpha Natural Resources has notified over 1,100 West Virginia coal miners that they could soon be laid off.  The workers affected come from 11 different mines across six counties, including the Twilight and Black Castle surface mines in Boone County, the Republic Surface mine in Raleigh County, the North Surface Mine in Mingo and Logan Counties, and the Superior, Reylas, Freeze Fork, and Trace Fork Surface mines in Logan County.  Alpha blamed the potential layoffs on weak coal markets in the US and overseas, and pollution regulations at coal-fired utilities.  But Alpha also blamed just how expensive coal from this region is to mine, saying “Central Appalachia mines haven’t been able to keep up with the fast pace at which coal demand has eroded and prices have fallen.”  The company warned that further layoffs in our region could be coming over the next year.

Despite the expensive cost of local coal, Eastern Kentucky coal production increased by 15% in the second quarter of 2015, the Mountain Eagle reports (the story was originally reported by the Lexington Herald-Leader here).  Production was up in 17 of southeast Kentucky’s 18 coal counties.  The Kentucky Coal Association said a large reason for this was the unusually cold Continue reading Coal Report for August 6, 2014

Coal Report for July 23, 2014

former West Virginia coal miner Robert Bailey testifies at a Congressional hearing on benefits for black lung disease on July 22, 2014 // photo from the C-SPAN coverage of the event, which can be viewed at:

More coal mine layoffs have hit central Appalachia, as the bottom continues to fall out on the market for metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel.  In the latest news, Arch Coal has announced that it will idle the Cumberland River complex in Wise County, Virginia and Letcher County, Ky., The Mountain Eagle reports.  This will close two underground mines, including the Trace Fork mine near Eolia, and in all, 213 full-time employees will lose their jobs.  This is part of an industry-wide trend—as SNL Energy reports, benchmark prices for met coal have reached a seven-year low, and there is a massive global oversupply.  So met coal mines are closing.  Just in the past month, it has come out that Cliffs Natural Resources is idling the Pinnacle Mine in West Virginia, and that Alpha Natural Resources will permanently close the Cherokee mine in Southwest Virginia.  Patriot Coal also recently cut staff at two other met coal operations in West Virginia.

SNL also reports that this latest closure will affect two counties that have already been hit hard.  Not counting the new layoffs, since the end of 2011, Wise County, Va. has lost 801 coal jobs, leaving just over 1000 in the county.  Letcher County, Ky. has also gone from 1,014 coal jobs in 2011 to just 445.  Part of the reason lies in how expensive local coal is comparatively.  Bloomberg reports that while it takes 43 employee hours in Kentucky to fill one rail car of coal, in Wyoming, it just takes 4 employee Continue reading Coal Report for July 23, 2014

Coal Report for July 16, 2014

the scene of a fatal accident--found to be the company's fault--that took the life of miner Richard Coots in Letcher County, Ky. in 2011. Richard's brother Jeromy was fired earlier this year one day after speaking out about safety issues at a Harlan Co. mine // photo from MSHA via

A coal miner in Harlan County was fired this Spring, just one day after he spoke out about unsafe working conditions, the Huffington Post reports. The story starts back in October of 2011, when coal miner Richard Coots, who was just 23, was killed at a Letcher County mine in a machinery accident that was found to be caused by coal company negligence. Richard’s little brother Jeromy Coots was with him in the mine when he was killed. Jeromy is now 22, and earlier this year, he was working at Arch Coal’s Clover Fork No. 1 mine in Harlan County as a roof bolter. But conditions at that mine were also found to be unsafe. Jeromy was asked to work without an Automated Temporary Roof Support System, or ATRS, which helps protect roof bolters in case of rock falls. Working without one is illegal and dangerous. Jeromy’s attorney, Tony Oppegard, said “For a company to require miners to bolt without the ATRS is really playing Russian Roulette with that miner’s life.” And Jeromy was hit by falling rocks several times while working. Eventually, he spoke up, telling his foreman that after what happened to his brother, he had to say something about the unsafe conditions. He was reportedly told the company didn’t want to use the ATRS safety system because it took too much time. And the next day, Jeromy was fired. Arch Coal, the company that fired him, is the second-largest coal producer in America.

Many politicians have accused the EPA of overreach when it comes to coal regulation. But according to the Charleston Gazette, a federal appeals court has ruled that the EPA was actually right when it sought to reduce pollution in streams near Continue reading Coal Report for July 16, 2014

Coal Report for July 9, 2014

graphic from the latest edition of Kentucky Coal Facts, found at

For the first time since 1911, Western Kentucky produced more coal last year than Eastern Kentucky did.  And according to a new report from the state (Kentucky Coal Facts 2014), they did it with fewer miners.  Western Kentucky production fell by 2.8 percent last year, to 40.9 million tons.  But production in Eastern Kentucky, fell by 19%, to 39.8 million tons.  In terms of employment, eastern Kentucky has lost 38% of its coal jobs since mid-2011, and by the end of 2013 the region was down to 7,436 jobs in total.  By contrast, coal employment in Western Kentucky was relatively stable and stood at 4,449 by the end of the year.  So in all, last year Western Kentucky produced more coal than Eastern Kentucky, with nearly 3,000 fewer employees.  The report also said that Kentucky power plants remained the largest market for Kentucky coal in 2013, but that the value of Kentucky coal exports to foreign countries did increase by 21.5 percent last year to a record high of $87.3 million.

In this year’s state budget, Kentucky’s General Assembly slashed the state’s mine safety budget from $15 million to $10 million, and details have now emerged on where the cuts are coming.  The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that Kentucky’s mine safety staff will be cut from 142 employees overall to 88.  Specifically, the work that had been done by 69 Continue reading Coal Report for July 9, 2014

Coal Report for July 2, 2014

the proposed route of the Coalfields Expressway; 26 miles of the route is said to have been altered for coal mining interests, prompting the federal gov't to order a new environmental impact study

More coal mine layoffs have hit central Appalachia.  These latest layoffs have nothing to do with power plants or the EPA, though—they’re happening at mines that produce metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel.  Met coal prices have plummeted in the last couple years, and many coal operators with met coal operations are either downsizing or closing mines entirely.  In particular, Alpha Natural Resources announced that it will permanently shut down the Cherokee mine near Haysi in Dickenson County, Virginia.  The West Virginia State Journal said that over 120 people will ultimately lose their jobs.  The mine will be totally shut down by the end of September.

And this news came just after layoffs were announced at three other metallurgical mines in the region.  The State Journal also reports that Cliffs Resources Incorporated announced it will idle the Pinnacle Mine in Wyoming County, West Virginia for up to six months.  And the same week, Patriot Coal announced that it has laid off a total of 75 workers at two metallurgical mining complexes in Boone County, West Virginia: the Wells complex in the town of Wharton and the Corridor G complex near Danville.  The layoffs and closures are all a reflection of how depressed the global met coal market currently is.

In other news, the Federal Highway Administration has ruled that Virginia must conduct a full Environmental Impact Continue reading Coal Report for July 2, 2014