CHARLESTON, W.Va. – More than 1,100 coal miners and mine staff could possibly be laid off at eleven surface mine sites and supporting locations in southern West Virginia — all operated by subsidiaries of Alpha Natural Resources — before the end of October.
On Thursday afternoon, workers were notified of the possibility of layoffs at the following locations:
Highland Mining’s Superior, Reylas, Freeze Fork and Trace Fork surface mines in Logan County and the North surface mine in Mingo and Logan counties; Black Castle Mining’s surface mine in Boone County; Independence Coal’s Twilight surface mine in Boone County; Alex Energy’s Edwight surface mine in Raleigh County; Republic Energy’s Republic and Workman Creek surface mines in Raleigh County and Pioneer Fuel’s Ewing Fork #1 surface mine in Kanawha and Fayette counties.
The layoffs, which have not yet started, could affect preparation plants and other support operations as well.
In a statement, Alpha officials said the possible layoffs were “due to sustained weak market conditions and government regulations that have challenged the entire Central Appalachian mining industry.”
According to Alpha, the international price for coal shipped to power plants in Europe is at a four-year low while prices for metallurgical coal, used to make steel, are down more than 20 percent in the past year. Company officials said the demand for coal has dropped because of low natural gas prices, competition from other coal sources, and new regulations from the EPA for coal-fired power plants.
“Many mines in the region have done a great job finding ways to reduce costs and remain economically viable in this unprecedented business climate, but some Central Appalachian mines haven’t been able to keep up with the fast paces at which coal demand has eroded and prices have fallen,” said Paul Vining, president of Alpha, in a statement.
“So, our operations managers have to take a hard and serious examination whether they can sustain a number of mines and related operations by finding additional cost reductions and whether the business will be there to support them in the year ahead.”
So far this year, the Alpha mines receiving WARN notifications on Thursday have produced 4.2 million tons of thermal and metallurgical coal.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin issued the following statement following Thursday’s announcement from Alpha Natural Resources:
“The potential for layoffs and mine closures are heartbreaking and frustrating for our miners, their families and the communities in which they live. They depend on these jobs to keep food on the table and a roof overhead. My administration will closely monitor the situation and we stand ready to provide whatever assistance our miners and their families may need during this difficult time.
“We recognize market trends can play a part in these potential closures; however these actions also show the real-world impact of the regulatory environment in which industry must operate. Today’s announcement, in part related to power plant closures as a result of past EPA regulations, is why we remain concerned about the EPA’s current proposals regarding CO2.
“For years, we have tried to warn the EPA of the consequences of its irresponsible mandates and today, our fears have unfortunately become our reality. I again urge the EPA to reconsider its proposed plan and realize the real impact these new rules have on West Virginia miners, their families and our communities.”
The Alpha announcement continues a trend in southern West Virginia.
Earlier this year, 75 people were laid off at two Patriot Coal mine sites in Boone County — the Wells Complex in Wharton and the Corridor G Complex near Danville.
In June, Cliffs Natural Resources issued a notice of preliminary plans to idle the Pinnacle Mine in Wyoming County at the end of August, possibly impacting 450 miners.