America's Longwall Operations Demonstrate Stability During an Uncertain Period

Total population remains the same as several new longwall installations ramp up to reach full production in 2012

By Steve Fiscor, Editor-in-Chief

For the first time, the total number of longwall mines, according to Coal Age's annual U.S. longwall census remains the same as it did last year. U.S. coal operators have 43 installations with five mines operating two faces for a total of 48. Two of the longwall installations are non-coal mines cutting soft rock in Wyoming.

CONSOL Energy remains the leading U.S. longwall producer with 11 faces. Arch Coal and Murray Energy operate five longwall mines. Alpha Natural Resources and Walter Energy each have one mine operating two longwall faces. Both companies operate three longwall mines and four longwall faces. Alliance Resource Partners brought the Tunnel Ridge longwall online during May 2012 in West Virginia. Foresight Energy commissioned its longwall at the Deer Run mine in Illinois. Both of these new longwalls were included in last year's census even though they were not yet operational.

With 13 faces, West Virginia remains the longwall leader, followed by Pennsylvania (7), Alabama (6), and Utah (5). Looking at the numbers, the average U.S. longwall mine operating in coal has a cutting height of 90 inches, a panel width (or face length) of 1,137 ft, and a panel length of 10,802 ft. Last year those numbers were 94 inches, 1,086 ft, and 10,321 ft respectively. A total of 17 longwalls operate in the Pittsburgh No. 8 seam. The maximum overburden on average reaches 1,178 ft. Except for a few mines in Utah, most are developed with 3-entry gates. Using a 1,178-hp doubledrum, ranging-arm shearer, they take a 38-inch cut. The average yield setting on the shield is 1,012 tons. Most (41 faces) are high voltage (4,160 volts).

As far as extremes, the deepest longwall mine is the West Ridge mine in Utah, operating at a depth of 3,000 ft. Alpha Natural Resources' Cumberland mine operates the longest face: 1,580 ft. At 21,500 ft, Signal Peak Energy's Bull Mountain mine has the longest panel. Arch Coal's West Elk and SUFCO mines are operating 2,805-hp shearers.

Safety Improves at America's Most Productive Mines
CONSOL Energy's Enlow Fork mine achieved a safety milestone by becoming the first longwall operation in the company's history to accumulate more than 1 million man-hours without incurring a lost time incident. During 2012, CONSOL Energy's Coal Division saw safety exceptions drop 11%, from 150 to 134.

During the third quarter of 2012, CONSOL Energy briefly idled the Blacksville and Robinson Run mines due to weak thermal coal markets. Two new conveyor belts at the Bailey prep plant collapsed, which impacted production at the Enlow Fork and Bailey mines. Engineers and contractors working around the clock had one belt rebuilt by the third week in August. The mines were re-started at a 60% capacity utilization rate. The second belt was repaired in late September, so the fourth quarter began with the entire complex running normally.

In early September, the company also idled the Buchanan mine for 60 days. The operations is now running again as planned and the first of two phases of the Horn Mountain Portal project have been completed. This portal is strategically located at the mouth of the future 5 North reserves. It's also 1.5 miles closer to Buchanan's current face.

The Shoemaker mine set a new production record of 5.3 million tons during 2012. A major sealing project was completed at the Loveridge mine, which has increased safety and decreased risk by reducing the active footprint of the mine by approximately three square miles.

In Central Appalachia, Patriot Coal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. The company decided to idle several operations due to market conditions, but its longwalls were unaffected. Arch Coal is investing $100 million during 2013 to complete the Leer metallurgical mine.

In the southern U.S., Walter Energy has also shown significant safety improvements. The company reported that, on a consolidated basis, its total reportable injury rate had decreased by 22% compared with 2011.

Table 2—Longwall Coal Production (2011-2012).
U.S. Longwall MinesProd. 2012Prod. 2011% Change
CONSOL EnergyBailey10,122,86210,833,141-6.6%
CONSOL EnergyEnlow Fork9,459,48510,190,255-7.2%
CONSOL EnergyMcElroy9,400,4859,253,4811.6%
American Energy Corp.Century Mine8,446,7097,080,62919.3%
Peabody EnergyTwentymile7,974,7327,748,9092.9%
Foresight EnergyMach Mining7,528,0617,226,5004.2%
Arch CoalWest Elk6,852,1365,896,40216.2%
Alpha Natural ResourcesCumberland6,425,3636,185,0763.9%
CONSOL EnergyLoveridge5,869,4545,638,9734.1%
Ohio Valley CoalPowhatan No.6 5,767,7376,415,744-10.1%
Signal Peak EnergyBull Mountain Mine5,707,6335,135,57011.1%
Arch CoalSufco No. 15,650,4466,498,011-13.0%
AmCoalNew Era5,641,7884,963,21113.7%
CONSOL EnergyShoemaker5,316,3745,148,5743.3%
CONSOL EnergyRobinson Run No. 954,992,0465,958,158-16.2%
BHP BillitonSan Juan South4,960,3753,983,02524.5%
Walter EnergyBlue Creek No. 74,764,2683,610,24632.0%
Foresight EnergySugar Camp4,690,260855,868448.0%
Pacific MineralsBridger4,636,5573,043,11052.4%
Alpha Natural ResourcesEmerald No. 14,384,2533,713,20618.1%
Patriot CoalFederal No. 24,044,9373,744,7648.0%
AmCoalNew Future3,642,1691,783,046104.3%
CONSOL EnergyBuchanan3,506,2165,654,353-38.0%
Bowie ResourcesBowie Mines No. 23,430,2912,235,05553.5%
Energy West MiningDeer Creek3,294,7343,142,7014.8%
CONSOL EnergyBlacksville No. 23,231,1484,341,984-25.6%
Oxbow MiningElk Creek2,958,0143,007,833-1.7%
Arch CoalMountaineer II2,543,7613,291,560-22.7%
Cliffs ResourcesPinnacle No. 502,432,8781,165,799108.7%
UtahAmerican EnergyWest Ridge2,409,4443,565,890-32.4%
Foresight EnergyDeer Run2,365,356491,227381.5%
Alliance Resource PartnersMountain View2,284,5482,317,564-1.4%
Patriot CoalAmerican Eagle Mine2,266,2111,842,97823.0%
Walter EnergyNorth River No. 12,249,2332,707,383-16.9%
Cliffs ResourcesOak Grove2,206,797526,267319.3%
Alliance Resource PartnersTunnel Ridge2,000,531275,227626.9%
Walter EnergyBlue Creek No. 41,903,3812,122,806-10.3%
Arch CoalSkyline1,894,4682,948,091-35.7%
Blue Mountain EnergyDeserado1,673,4611,983,581-15.6%
Arch CoalDugout Canyon1,515,6522,395,020-36.7%
Drummond Co. Inc.Shoal Creek1,286,5731,760,870-26.9%
Alpha Natural ResourcesRevolution752,978364,839106.3%

In the western U.S., Peabody Energy's Twentymile mine in Colorado produced nearly 1 million fewer tons in the fourth quarter compared to last year but remained the highest-producing longwall mine in the region. Peabody's new Sage Creek project, which is part of the Twentymile operation, produced a small amount of coal in 2012, as it moves toward development. Arch Coal's Sufco mine completed a longwall move during the fourth quarter. The longwall at Arch Coal's Skyline mine resumed operation in late October, while the longwall at Dugout Canyon was idled after completing its final panel in the Gilson seam. Dugout Canyon resumed production in 2012 after it was idled in late 2011 due to weak market conditions. Oxbow Group's Elk Creek mine, is finally seeing production improve as the mine worked to improve its ventilation system. Blue Mountain Energy is seeking access to federal coal reserves to increase its reserves.