WHEELING, W.Va. — Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) said he feels better about the future of five large longwall coal mines in northern West Virginia following a meeting this week with Robert Murray, president and CEO Murray Energy.
Murray Energy, which is based in St. Clairsville, Ohio, is buying the McElroy, Shoemaker, Blacksville No. 2, Loveridge and Robinson Run mine operations from CONSOL Energy in a $3.5 billion transaction that could be finalized before the end of the year.
Kessler sat down with Murray on Tuesday afternoon to talk about the effects of the sale on the thousands of people who work at those mine sites, which together produced 28.5 million tons of coal last year, and the communities that support them.
Following the meeting, Kessler tweeted, “Things are going to be just fine.”
He talked more about his discussion with Murray on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
“He (Murray) plans on continuing to operate the mines at full production status with full employment, with high productivity and honoring all the commitments in the contracts they currently have, both with the UMWA, as well as to the retirees,” said Kessler. “I’m encouraged by that.”
According to the company’s website, Murray Energy currently has eight underground surface mining operations along with 40 subsidiary and support companies. The CONSOL mine sites, including CONSOL’s River and Dock Operations, will be added to the existing Murray facilities, almost doubling the size of the company.
“He (Murray) believes that by doubling that base, the reserves and the employment and production, particularly, that he can continue to make steam coal a productive, ongoing and viable operation,” said Kessler.
In their announcement of the sales, CONSOL officials said they will be focusing more on natural gas in the years ahead.
“That thermal coal segment, we don’t see it going away. We see those mines operating for 20 years plus out into the future,” said Nick Deluliis, CONSOL Energy president, earlier this week.
“But the prospects for growth, in terms of creating incremental production, or pricing expansion beyond the stable, profitable cash flows we see there, is limited compared to something like natural gas.”
Kessler admitted, at first, he was apprehensive about the CONSOL sales, even with reassurances from CONSOL about the long term viability of the mines.
“There’s always concern when someone buys something and you don’t know who they are. We’ve seen it happen with Weirton Steel, Wheeling Steel, Mittal Steel and Severstal Steel. They just buy and flip them and sell them to countries all over the world and, the next thing you know, they’re out of operation,” he said.
“That is not the plan of Mr. Murray. He plans on continuing to operate these (sites) as ongoing, successful coal mining operations.”