CONSOL Energy (NYSE:CNX) announced Feb. 28 that it will idle the longwall at its Blacksville No. 2 deep mine in northern West Virginia and reduce the mine’s continuous mining operating schedule to four days per week.
CONSOL said this is in response to market conditions primarily as a result of mild winter weather and low natural gas prices that have prompted widespread coal-to-gas switching. Other coal producers, including Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE:ANR), have also recently said they are shutting in coal production this year for similar reasons.
In 2011, Blacksville No. 2 produced 4.3 million tons of coal utilizing a single longwall and three continuous mining units. It is not known how long the Blacksville No. 2 longwall mining operations will be idled, however CONSOL said it expects production to be reduced by about 400,000 tons per month for as long as the mine operates on this reduced schedule. Continuous mining machines dig support tunnels that define huge panels that the longwall then works for a relatively long period of time, while at the same time the continuous miners work to define the next panel.
This cutback involves no worker layoffs, however most overtime and other non-essential work may be postponed until resumption of normal operations. Blacksville No. 2 has 585 total employees, who were officially briefed on the situation on Feb. 28.
CONSOL Energy, also a major producer of natural gas, has 12 bituminous coal mining complexes in four states. It has several other longwall mines that like Blacksville No. 2 produce coal from the Pittsburgh seam, including the larger McElroy, Bailey and Enlow Fork operations.