Coal’s headwinds – and future – close to mind in Charleston

The West Virginia Coal Association annual symposium bounced the balance of market, fossil fuels’ public perception and the industry’s plans to charge toward prosperity, environmental optimism and safety in Charleston April 18-19.

By Donna Schmidt

With a change of venue this year to the conference hall of the capital city’s Embassy Suites, the West Virginia Coal Association (WVCA) brought together hundreds from the region’s industry community to talk tech, politics and, yes, safe and productive mining during the group’s annual technical symposium.

At the podium in front of well over 200 guests that ranged between front-line workers, executives and suppliers were dozens of speakers that kicked off with WVCA President Chris Hamilton and Chairman Michael Day. A number of keynotes followed, including West Virginia Governor and coal operator Jim Justice, State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration Assistant Secretary Chris Williamson.

Williamson focused primarily on the agency’s efforts as of late along with his own mission for miner safety, evident in the recently introduced Miner Health Matters initiative. The push will include MSHA’s enforcement and outreach efforts to ensure miners working in potentially dangerous mining environments take precautions to limit exposures to silica and other toxins. 

“You can’t do anything about health if you don’t know what’s happening,” he said of his desire to put focus on health through the program as well as in his own interactions with the nation’s mines. He spoke about recognition of the country’s mine rescue workers, as well as his recent open letter to the mining industry asking the community to collectively stand down for safety and remember that all workers play an active role in the safety and health of themselves and others.

A major highlight of the second day’s agenda on April 19 was a panel of West Virginia coal operations executives outlining plans for new mine investments in the state. Allegheny Metallurgical CEO Keith Hainer, CONSOL Energy Senior VP of Operations Eric Schubel and Arch Resources Engineering Manager Jared Forman each took time to discuss the work going on at their respective operations. 

WVCA recognized 54 total groups during the association’s traditional Mountaineer Guardian Awards held during a special luncheon on April 18. Receiving the Eustace E. Fredrick Milestone Award were Blackhawk Mining, Panther Creek Mining and the American Eagle mine, and earning the Bart. B. Lay Jr. Milestones of Safety Awards were Alpha Metallurgical Resources’ Republic Energy Workman Creek surface operation and the Cleveland-Cliffs Princeton Coal Blue Eagle surface mine.

Also recognized were four independent contractors, 17 underground mines, five surface operations, six quarries, and a total of 17 preparation plant and loadouts during the luncheon event.

A number of awards were given out at this year’s symposium, for both safety and
environmental excellence, to underground and surface mines state-wide as well as
operation sites and facilities.

Hainer shared a video of progress at Allegheny Metallurgical’s asset that broke ground in 2010 in the Lower Kittanning seam that has enviable coal quality and a production capacity of 3.8 million tons annually, while Schubel followed up to outline the latest with the Itmann complex, the prep plant for which was commissioned last October. With a $100 million investment in the property, the operation is now running at full capacity. 

Forman was focused on the growth of the Leer complex, with Leer and Leer South in active operations and Leer North and Leer West next in the pipeline, along with its employee growth and certification programs, its safety initiative, recently implemented healthcare center and ongoing safety program Safety Noble Cause.

One final event of the symposium was the association’s and West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s recognition of the Environmental Excellence Awards. Eleven total operations were recognized in first categories: Greenlands Award (Pocahontas Coal’s Tommy Creek Highwall No. 2); Underground Mine Award (Arch ICG Tygart Valley Leer and Alpha Independence Coal’s Black King deep mine); Coal Refuse Area Award (ACNR Monongalia County mine and Arch’s ICG Beckley Pocahontas Refuse); Prep Plant and Loadout Award (Cornerstone Processing’s Olan Plant and Switchback Loadout); and Surface Mine Award (Cleveland-Cliffs Princeton Coal Mid-Vol Blue Eagle mine, Ramaco Resources Ram 1 surface mine, Arch Resources’ Patriot Mining Osage surface operation and Alpha’s Republic Energy Workman Creek Long Ridge site).

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