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Further Appalachian coal mines idled

World Coal,

Alpha Natural Resources has announced its intention to idle several coal mines in West Virginia. These include the Superior, North and Trace Fork opencast mines. The company also announced a workforce reduction at its Reylas and Freeze Fork opencast mines. Approximately 100 workers are affected and the idled mines produced 1.5 million t of thermal coal in 2014. The idled mines represent approximately 5% of Alpha Natural Resources' Eastern thermal coal production.

25% of the affected workers will be needed by Alpha in order to perform reclamation work at three of the mines, as they wind down to an idled state. In a statement, the company said the idlings and workforce reduction will be completed by mid April.

These idling plans and workforce reductions were previously part of downsizing plans announced in July 2014, but gained a temporary reprieve in order to fulfil existing contracts and attempt to reduce production costs to remain viable. However, market conditions have meant that the mines are not viable right now even with the cost reductions.

Alpha said its actions were being “triggered by persistent weakness in US and overseas coal demand and depressed price levels, along with regulatory pressures contributing to the premature retirement of coal-fired power plants across the nation. Excess supply of coal worldwide has also contributed to falling coal prices.”

Idle these mines may address the Central Appalachian [CAPP] coal oversupply, which is continuing to depress prices. If these mines remain closed, it would also be met kindly by scientists, who recently revealed that the majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves – particularly coal – must remain in the ground if we are to avoid the potentially catastrophic effects of global warming and climate change.

Alpha Chairman and CEO, Kevin Crutchfield, emphasised the continued need to adjust to challenging market conditions. "We made a short-term decision in November to keep these mines operating as existing coal supply contracts were being fulfilled," Crutchfield said.  "Unfortunately, despite the hard work of these operations to reduce costs in this unprecedented business climate, prices remain depressed and current coal supply simply exceeds demand."

"These actions are consistent with steps that we've taken in the past to build a smaller but more sustainable portfolio of mining assets across our operational footprint," Crutchfield added. "We are confident that a portion of the displaced miners will be able to fill available positions at other Alpha-affiliated mines.”

Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson

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