CONSOL Sees Rise in Met Demand

CONSOL Energy credited rising demand for metallurgical coal by steelmakers for boosting third quarter results over the year-ago period. CONSOL added a shift at the Buchanan mine—its main met coal mine in southwestern Virginia—to meet stronger demand. CONSOL restarted the mine in June after idling the operation in the face of weakening steel production.

CONSOL CEO Brett Harvey told analysts during a conference call that Asian steel plants are running at about 75% capacity. “Domestically we’re running about 60%,” Harvey said. “We see demand coming on the met side.” CONSOL reported that its third quarter earnings decreased 3% to $87.4 million, from $90.1 million a year earlier. Revenue decline 6.7% to $1.09 billion from $1.17 billion.


Walter Energy Sees Demand Firming for Coking Coal

According to Reuters, Walter Energy Inc. year-to-date sales volumes are exceeding the record levels reached in 2008 and demand for steelmaking coal has shown no signs of reduction. The coal miner expects to supply about 6.4 million tons of hard coking coal in 2009 compared with 5.8 million tons sold in 2008. Walter, who posted a strong third quarter profit, expects to sell about 1.6 million to 1.7 million tons of coking coal in the fourth quarter whereas production may range between 1.4 million and 1.5 million tons only. The company said it expects to add another longwall in one of its mines by mid-December and will likely hit full capacity by January.


AEP Launches Project to Test Carbon Capture

American Electric Power (AEP) has launched a pilot project to capture and sequester carbon dioxide emissions from its Mountaineer plant in New Haven, W.Va. “It’s a game-changing technology,” said AEP CEO Michael Morris. “It has some challenges ahead, as all new technologies do. But none of them are show-stoppers.”

The pilot is designed to capture and pump underground emissions representing about 20 megawatts of the 1,300-megawatt Mountaineer plant. AEP expects with the help of federal money to expand the project to the equivalent of about 230 megawatts. “There is lots of work to do and the new technology might not be ready for wide deployment on thousands of power plants around the world until at least 2020,” Morris said.


Native American Ceremony Ushers in New Chapter for Former Mine

During September, the reclamation of BHP Billiton’s La Plata mine earned national acknowledgment from the U.S. Department of the Interior. A Native American Healer, Richard Redhouse, conducted a traditional Blessing Way Ceremony to express appreciation to Mother Earth and to re-harmonize the reclaimed land.

“We are proud of the technical success of this reclamation project and the awards it has received,” said Norman Benally, manager human resources and external affairs, BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal. “Now we ask that the spirit of this special place help guide its continued growth into a thriving natural habitat.”

A Blessing Way Ceremony focuses on the cleansing and re-harmonizing of the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well being of an individual. In this Ceremony, offerings in the form of prayers and spiritual herbs will be given to Mother Earth for the purpose of bringing forth life that will result in the restoration of the natural habitat.

“I am happy to ask our Creator to bless this land and maintain harmony as it grows. Fortunately, the land’s reformation and development has been greatly aided by the work of BHP Billiton,” said Redhouse.

Traditional Native Healers regularly conduct Ceremonies for safety blessings at BHP Billiton’s operational mines, where 63% of the workforce is Navajo. Redhouse was asked to perform the La Plata Blessing Way Ceremony because active restoration activities are now complete on the site. Wildlife has returned and vegetation has taken root. At one time, millions of tons of coal were transferred to supply the San Juan Generating Station. Coal production ceased in December 2002 when full-time reclamation of the 2,066 acre mine site began.

“This blessing is consistent with our company’s respect for our host communities and value in upholding the cultural heritage of our employees,” said Benally. “In fact, the entire story of La Plata’s landmark reclamation—from the first seeding to this proper prayer—brings to life BHP Billiton’s philosophy of sustainable development.”


EPA Delays 79 Mining Permits

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it’s going to hold up 79 applications for surface coal mine permits in four states (West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee) for further “enhanced” review. All 79 permits were on a preliminary list released September 11 (See additional coverage in Appalachian Profile, p. 32). The EPA says it will work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issues the permits, and applicants to reduce water quality damage. The action is the latest attempt by the EPA to rein in mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. The highly efficient, but evasive mining practice has been targeted by the Obama administration’s EPA.

“The EPA’s announcement to halt 79 pending coal mining permits continues the moratorium on Eastern coal mining that jeopardizes the livelihoods of tens of thousands of American workers and their communities. By deciding to hold up for still further review, the agency damages a weak economy struggling to recover in the worst recession in post-war history,” said Hal Quinn, president and CEO, National Mining Association (NMA). “The EPA has adopted its own process and criteria for reviewing coal mine permits that is the responsibility of the Army Corp of Engineers. No one outside of the EPA—not even the Corps—knows what criteria the EPA has used to now find these 79 permits insufficient. Permit applicants do not know what conditions outside the bounds of the existing regulations they must meet to obtain a permit. In effect, the EPA is imposing new regulations that have not been proposed or publicly reviewed as required by law. This action reinforces our earlier call for a transparent process that gives coal operators confidence in the regulatory process.

“We’re at a loss to understand how the EPA’s moratorium on coal mining aligns with the public interest and the administration’s attempt to restore economic growth and create high wage jobs,” Quinn said.

In March, the EPA halted several mining permit applications in order to review the water-resources impacts of such permits. In June, the Obama administration announced an unprecedented interagency action plan to reduce environmental impacts of mountaintop coal mining. The EPA has approved one of six major mountaintop mining permits issued by the corps to CONSOL Energy’s Peg Fork surface mine near Chattaroy in Mingo County, W.Va.