Walter Energy units permit new coal mines in West Virginia

The Maple Coal unit of Walter Energy (NYSE:WLT) applied Feb. 24 at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for a mine permit on the 100-acre Mt McGuire strip mine, to be located near Powellton in Fayette County.

The DEP database shows the application covers a haulroad and an area mine working the Coalburg and Stockton coal seams and associated seam splits. This is the only pending mine permit application for Maple Coal at the DEP. Getting a new surface mine permit for Maple Coal is a big deal, since DEP records show it has several surface mine permits in its name, the newest of which was issued in 1996. It normally takes at least a year for the DEP to issue a surface mine permit from the point of application.

The DEP did in April 2011 issue a mine permit to Maple Coal for the Maple Eagle East room-and-pillar mine, to work the Eagle seam at a site also near Powellton in Fayette County. The latest DEP inspection report for this site, dated Feb. 17, shows the site as “active, no coal removed.”

Walter Energy acquired the Maple Coal and Gauley Eagle mining operations in an April 2011 buy of Canada-based Western Coal. “The Maple Coal mines, located in Fayette and Kanawha counties, and the Gauley Eagle mines, located in Nicholas and Webster counties of West Virginia, contain approximately 38.7 million metric tons of recoverable reserves within the Appalachian coal-producing region,” said Walter’s Feb. 29 annual Form 10-K report. “The Maple underground mine operates in the Eagle coal seam and employs room-and-pillar mining with continuous miners to produce a premium high volatile coking coal, which is used in the steelmaking process. The Gauley Eagle underground mine also employs room-and-pillar mining to produce a high volatile semisoft coking coal, which can be used in the steelmaking process or as a premium low-sulfur thermal coal.”

The Form 10-K added: “The Gauley Eagle underground mine was temporarily idled in mid-2011, due to economic conditions and the reallocation of personnel and equipment to the Maple underground mine. Both the Maple and Gauley Eagle surface mines produce primarily thermal coal. At forecasted production levels, we estimate the current reserves to have a 20-25 year life.”

There are three mines listed with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration under Maple Coal, all in Fayette County. There is the Maple Eagle No. 1 deep mine, which produced 607,954 tons in 2011 and 493,261 tons in 2010. There is the Maple Eagle East deep mine, listed by MSHA as a new operation with no production as of the end of 2011. And there is the Huffman No. 1/Sycamore strip mine, that produced 581,562 tons in 2011, up from 365,417 tons in 2010.

Walter Energy operates the Gauley Eagle property under the name Atlantic Leaseco LLC. DEP records show Atlantic Leaseco with two pending mine permit applications as of March 15: one filed in August 2011 for the 90-acre Peerless No. 1 strip mine; and the other filed back in September 2007 for the 627-acre Clear Fork No. 1 strip job.

The newest mine permit issued to Atlantic Leaseco came out in December 2011 for the Rockhouse Run No. 1 room-and-pillar job in the Coalburg seam. There had been no DEP inspections of the site done up to March 15, indicating that mine development hasn’t started yet.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.