A Nov. 21 report in the Observer-Reporter newspaper said that Alpha Natural Resources recently laid off about 214 remaining miners, leaving only about 18 union members to finish out the shutdown of the venerable Emerald longwall mine, which worked the Pittsburgh coal seam in Greene County, Pa.
Alpha announced a year ago that Emerald would be idled in the second half of 2015 when it ran out of economic coal reserves. Alpha’s nearby Cumberland longwall mine, which also works the Pittsburgh seam and has lower production costs, will remain in operation and has picked up some of the ex-Emerald workers. The workforces at both mines are represented by the United Mine Workers of America union.
In the meantime, Alpha in August of this year sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the face of a terrible coal market that has lasted for about four years now and shows little sign of getting better.
U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data shows the downward path for Emerald. The mine produced nearly 4 million tons of coal in all of 2014, and had an average employee count that fell from 486 in the first quarter of that year down to 332 in the fourth quarter. Then in the first three quarters of this year the mine produced a total of only 1.7 million tons of coal, with an average employee count that had sunk to 248 people in the third quarter of this year.
On the other hand, the Cumberland mine produced 5.4 million tons in the first three quarters of this year, comparable to a production pace that saw 7.4 million tons of production in all of 2014.