CONSOL Energy (NYSE: CNX) said Oct. 30 that it has issued a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) notice of plans to idle its Miller Creek surface operations near Naugatuck in Mingo County, W. Va., resulting in a layoff impacting about 145 employees.
Operations impacted include the company’s Wiley, Wiley Creek and Minway surface mines, Minway prep plant and Miller Creek Administration Group. The layoffs will occur during a 14-day period beginning at 12:01 a.m., on Dec. 30, 2012. At this time underground operations at this site will not be affected.
To date in 2012, the Miller Creek complex has produced 1.55 million tons of coal, with 83% produced by surface operations. Annual direct estimated economic impact of the Miller Creek Complex in Mingo County is $161.6m.
CONSOL attributed the idling to a sequence of permit delays that has prevented it from securing all of the necessary environmental permits required to continue mining. The company secured its Article III mining permit in November 2011 from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. It has been working cooperatively since November 2007 with the DEP, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to secure other needed permits – namely the Clean Water Act Section 404 and Section 402 permits. CONSOL received news on Oct. 29 that the EPA released its objection to the company’s 402 permit. However, that permit alone is not sufficient to allow miners to begin work, the company noted.
“The decision to idle our Miller Creek surface operations is a difficult one for several reasons,” said Nicholas DeIuliis, president of CONSOL. “The facility has operated without a lost-time accident since 1986, an exemplary safety record for the mining industry, and it is unfortunate that they will not be afforded the opportunity to extend that record. The failure to obtain timely permits despite our efforts in planning and cooperating with multiple agencies of jurisdiction is frustrating and is having a direct impact not only on these employees and their families, but on all state residents.”
“CONSOL Energy has been working under a Memorandum of Understanding together with the Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the West Virginia Departments of Highways and Environmental Protection, and the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority since 2007 to secure the permits for development of our Buffalo Mountain mine project on which the King Coal Highway was planned for post-mine use land,” DeIuliis continued. “It was there we were planning to reassign our workforce once the area in which they were mining was completed. The combined mine and highway project, in addition to providing much needed jobs, would have a total statewide economic impact of $484.7 million.”
The Federal Highway Administration and the Corps said in January that they would prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement on a plan by CONSOL to mine the Buffalo Mountain coal reserve and then prepare the reclaimed mine site for construction of a new highway segment.
The supplemental EIS will evaluate the impacts of the proposed Delbarton-to-Belo portion of the King Coal Highway and also cover the Section 404 permit that CONSOL is seeking from the Corps for the Buffalo Mountain surface mine. In 2008, CONSOL submitted an application for a Section 404 permit and the Corps issued a public notice on the application in December 2008.
DEP records show that the mine permit, covering 2,308 acres, was issued on Nov. 22, 2011, after being in processing for about four years. This is one of the largest surface mines permitted by the DEP in recent years. The DEP, like the Corps, has been the target of numerous complaints by environmental groups that these surface mines are getting too large with too big an environmental impact. The Buffalo Mountain mine would work various coal seams, including the Kittanning, Buffalo Creek and Coalburg.