The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in December 2013 issued a permit to a subsidiary of CONSOL Energy (NYSE: CNX) for what could be the largest coal mine ever – surface or underground – in the state.
The permit was issued Dec. 9 to Wolfpen Knob Development for the Mason-Dixon longwall mine, which would work the Pittsburgh coal seam from a 120-acre surface site in Monongalia County, near Wadestown.
Permit records in the DEP’s mining division show that a permit for the Mason-Dixon freshwater impoundment was issued in October 2012, while a prep plant permit was issued in June 2013. The only still-pending permit application (dating from 2009) at the DEP’s mining division for this project is for a refuse disposal facility.
CONSOL said in a 2008 filing at the U.S. Surface Transportation Board related to planned Norfolk Southern (NS) rail transport of this coal that the Mason-Dixon complex would turn out 8.5 million tons per year initially, with the eventual production level to perhaps be three times that number. That three times number (total of 25.5 million tons per year) would make this the largest coal mine in the state’s history, more than doubling the size of the McElroy twin-longwall mine in the Pittsburgh seam in this region that CONSOL recently sold to Murray Energy.
Incidentally, CONSOL’s Vaughan Railroad subsidiary in February 2012 re-filed with the STB the June 2008 petition related to the rail project. There have been no other filings in that STB docket since then. The proposed new Mason-Dixon rail line would connect with NS’s Wana Spur just south of the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border at NS milepost 0.55, extend in a southwesterly direction along the West Virginia Fork of Dunkard Creek to a point just northeast of Wadestown, then turn northwest to reach a loading loop track that will be adjacent to the new mine.
The Mason Dixon production would be steam coal primarily aimed at the market for high-sulfur coal created by numerous new SO2 scrubbers being installed on power plants in the eastern U.S. CONSOL has not been talking publicly about the Mason Dixon project yet. It is instead putting the public focus on the BMX project. BMX is essentially a third longwall, with 5 million tons per year of targeted production out of the Pittsburgh seam, that is being added at its Bailey mine in nearby Pennsylvania and is due for operation in 2014.
CONSOL spokesperson Kate O’Donovan said in a Jan. 3 e-mail about Mason Dixon: “We are moving forward with permitting plans; however, we do not have plans to develop given the current economic and industry conditions.” O’Donovan added about BMX: “BMX Mine remains on track to come online in April of 2014, with 5 million tons per year of targeted production. BMX is projected to be the lowest-cost mine across all remaining operations.”
The reference to “remaining operations” is to the fact that several unionized Pittsburgh-seam mines, including McElroy and Shoemaker, were sold to Murray Energy in late 2013. CONSOL’s remaining operations in this region center on its Bailey and Enlow Fork longwall mines in southwest Pennsylvania.