Murray Energy Powhatan No. 6 Mine to Close in Belmont County

ALLEDONIA – If Upper Ohio Valley coal miners didn’t face enough obstacles from regulatory pressure and competition from cheap natural gas, those at the Powhatan No. 6 Mine seem to be out of coal to extract.

Monday, Murray Energy Corp. spokesman Gary Broadbent said the mine – operated by Murray subsidiary, The Ohio Valley Coal Co. – will shut down in November, impacting the 431 miners now on the job. Company and union officials said the mine’s reserves are nearly exhausted after almost 50 years in operation.

Broadbent said the mine employs 431 people – 211 salaried and 220 hourly. He confirmed the mine had reached “the end of its productive life.”

“We will transfer as many of these employees as practicable to other operations. However, most of them will be laid off,” he said.

Belmont County Commissioner Mark Thomas said the news didn’t exactly come as a shock, given the mine’s age and the pressures facing the coal industry. But that doesn’t make it any less disappointing, he said.

“Mr. Murray’s been a good employer for Belmont County and the entire region for many years, and it breaks my heart to see that for the families. But he had to make a business decision, and I respect that,” Thomas said of Murray Energy CEO Robert E. Murray.

Belmont County is hoping for good employment news in the coming months, as PTT Global Chemical decides whether to build an ethane cracker at the former FirstEnergy site near Dilles Bottom. But Thomas acknowledged announcements such as Monday’s about impending coal layoffs can temper some of the excitement over new projects.

“I think it’s just as important for us to keep in mind our existing businesses and what they’ve meant – and what they still mean – to the economy and the area,” he said.

As coal joins other industries such as steel and glass that have declined in the area over the years, Thomas said, the economic impact has been unmistakable.

“Anybody with common sense recognizes that if you have 430 miners that are going to be put out of work, that’s going to affect everybody’s economy, no matter where you live – on either side of the river,” he said.

Data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration show hours worked at the Powhatan mine fell from 1.5 million in 2014 to 1.1 million in 2015. To this point in 2016, MSHA statistics indicate miners only worked 183,395 hours at Powhatan No. 6.

Murray operates both union mines, such as Powhatan No. 6, and non-union such as Beallsville. Hourly workers at the Marshall County Mine, the Ohio County Mine and Powhatan No. 6 have United Mine Workers of America representation.

“We’re disappointed that the mine is closing. We understand it has run out of reserves,” union spokesman Phil Smith said. “We are negotiating with the company to allow the miners at Powhatan to take other jobs at Murray operations as they become available.”

On Dec. 31, Murray displaced approximately 700 miners amid low coal demand. This came after Murray laid off 1,829 miners from employment at the company’s several mining sites across multiple states in May 2015.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a ton of Central Appalachian coal sold for $135.60 on the New York Mercantile Exchange on June 30, 2008. The price for that same ton of coal has never been higher than $50 in the last year. It was just $40.50 on Friday.

According to the EIA, Murray was the nation’s fifth-largest coal producer in 2014, mining 62.8 million tons.

City Editor Ian Hicks contributed to this story.