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Patriot's Highland thermal coal mine returns, with output rising: UMWA

  • Author
  • Bob Matyi
  • Editor
  • Valarie Jackson
  • Commodity
  • Coal

Patriot Coal's Highland No. 9 underground thermal coal mine in western Kentucky is back in operation and production has increased since the company issued a formal layoff notice earlier this month, two United Mine Workers of America sources said Monday.

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The mine was temporarily idled last week after a miner was killed in a haulage accident December 16. It was Kentucky's second mining fatality of 2014 and the 11th in the US this year, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Energy and Environment and the US Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Patriot December 5 released a federal Worker Adjustment Retraining Notification Act notice that said all 670 employees at Highland and the company's Dodge Hill underground thermal coal mine, both in Union County, could be furloughed within 60 days.

Patriot cited for the layoff notice low natural gas prices and more stringent US Environmental Protection Agency rules.

Since then, "production has increased substantially" at Highland, Steve Earle, a Madisonville, Kentucky-based UMWA international vice president said in a Monday interview. UMWA represents hourly workers at the mine.

Earle said the company needs to reduce its production costs at Highland, which generally is regarded as one of Patriot's best mines.

According to George Tudor, a former official of UMWA Local 1793 at Highland, the mine's output costs have exceeded the price it is paid for coal.

"For two months we've been producing coal at $44/short ton and selling it for $56/st," Tudor, who is among some 25 to 30 Highland employees who plans to retire at the end of December, said in a Monday interview.

"'We picked up production pretty good' in recent weeks," he said, adding "In my opinion, we're just paying more attention to production." The mine sells coal to Louisville Gas & Electric under contract.

Patriot officials in St. Louis could not be reached for comment Monday. The company is weighing three options at Highland: keep the mine operating as is, lay off off some miners and operate on a reduced basis, or shut the mine down completely.

Tudor said he thinks Patriot at least will move to a six-day work week, which was put in place months ago in a move to boost output.

Highland produced 2 million st of high-sulfur coal in the first three quarters of 2014 and 2.9 million st in 2013, MSHA figures show.

--Bob Matyi,
--Edited by Valarie Jackson,