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Westmoreland moves to sell 16 mines; Cloud Peak faces NYSE delisting

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Westmoreland moves to sell 16 mines; Cloud Peak faces NYSE delisting

Westmoreland Coal Co. filed a motion in federal bankruptcy court this week to sell its Buckingham mine in Ohio for $1 million to an as-yet-unformed holding company called CCU Coal and Construction LLC that would be owned by Charles Ungurean, the founder of Oxford Resource Partners LP, whose general partner Westmoreland acquired in 2015. Westmoreland is also seeking approval of a plan that would allow 15 mines owned by Oxford Mining Co. LLC in Ohio and Kentucky to be transferred to CCU Coal in a deal valued at up to $20 million.

Oxford Mining also received a permit from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to surface mine about 545 acres in Perry County, including portions of Perry State Forest. The operation is expected to produce between 300,000 and 500,000 tons of thermal coal per year.

In other regulatory news, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management found that a proposal by Evans Coal Co. to mine 3.3 million tons of metallurgical coal from a 1,270-acre tract in Oklahoma would not have a significant environmental impact on the area. The agency is accepting comments on its environmental assessment through Jan. 11, 2019.

The Evans mine would expand coking coal production in one of three nontraditional states where the National Coal Council has suggested new mining could be a boon for the industry. Other experts argue that metallurgical coal demand is fickle, and investors would be uninterested in operating in a region with thin coal seams and gassy mines.

Many companies are focused on returning value to their shareholders rather than investing in new mines after emerging from bankruptcy a few years ago. One pure-play Powder River Basin producer that avoided bankruptcy is now in jeopardy of being removed from the NYSE because of its low share prices. The exchange told Cloud Peak Energy Inc. this week that its stock fell below the minimum threshold for listing and said the coal producer has six months to improve before suspension and delisting procedures begin.

On a more positive note, the coal sector has seen fewer fatalities this year compared with 2017, when there were 15. The industry is on track to finish 2018 with 10 on-the-job deaths.

Miners who develop black lung disease on the job will see a decrease in the tax that funds benefits for them. The federal excise tax that coal producers pay to support the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund is scheduled to decline by about 55% beginning in 2019, reverting to its original level.

Upcoming events

Energy forum: The United States Energy Association will hold its State of the Energy Industry Forum at 9 a.m. on Jan. 24, 2019, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Carbon capture discussion: The Atlantic Council and the Global CCS Institute will host a discussion on the institute's report "The Global Status of CCS" from 3-6 p.m. on Jan. 28, 2019, at the Atlantic Council's headquarters in Washington, D.C.