Consol Idling Two Mines, Neither Local

Consol Energy Inc. announced plans Tuesday to idle one mine in Virginia and at least part of a mine in West Virginia, but spokeswoman Lynn Seay said the company’s Northern Panhandle operations would not be affected.

Declining steel demand was cited as a reason for the decision to temporarily idle the Buchanan Mine in southwestern Virginia, effective Tuesday. Buchanan is a longwall mine that produces metallurgical grade coal used in steelmaking.

Consol also intends to curtail operations in at least a portion of the Amonate Mining Complex in southern West Virginia, which also produces metallurgical grade coal used in steelmaking. Company officials still are working to determine how much of that complex will be idled, as well as when that will occur.

“Global steel demand is under pressure and as a consequence, raw materials used to make steel are in less demand,” according to a statement issued by Consol. “Through these idlings, Consol Energy is responding to weak market conditions throughout its export markets in Asia, Europe and South America.

“The idlings are expected to last for 30 to 60 days,” the company continued. “Buchanan Mine typically produces approximately 400,000 tons per month, while Amonate produces about 35,000 tons per month. Buchanan Mine has about 620 production and maintenance employees, most of whom will be furloughed. Amonate’s work force is contracted.”

Seay said the company’s high-volume operations, such as the McElroy and Shoemaker mines in Marshall County, would not be impacted by the decision.

Dave Kelly, vice president of Ohio Valley Operations for Consol Energy, previously said two longwall machines and 1,042 employees at McElroy produce 9.5 million tons of coal annually, or about 792,000 tons each month. At that rate, he said, the mine will continue to operate for 25-30 more years.

Shoemaker has 612 employees, and its single longwall yields 5 million tons annually, or 417,000 tons a month; Kelly expects production at that rate could continue for 15-20 years. And Consol has another block of reserves in excess of 300 million tons to tap in Marshall and Wetzel counties.

Both Shoemaker and McElroy produce thermal coal, used in energy production, rather than metallurgical coal, according to Seay.

Consol also issued a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN, notice earlier this summer, announcing a plan to lay off 318 employees at the Fola Operations in Bickmore, W.Va., east of Charleston. Those layoffs took effect Aug. 30. In this case, Consol cited increased regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for reducing the demand for coal.

And Consol is not alone in reducing its coal operations in West Virginia, as Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources also announced plans this summer to cut back their work forces throughout the Mountain State.

Consol said it will continue to monitor market demand and respond accordingly.