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U.S. Longwall Operations: How Slow Can We Go?


Anticipating a recovery in 2017, longwall mines sit in a holding pattern

As was noted in the 2017 Forecast Survey, the U.S. coal business posted its worst year in 40 years from a production perspective, declining 17% in 2016. Similarly, total longwall production experienced a double-digit decrease. Collectively, U.S. longwall installations produced nearly 153 million tons in 2016, a 17.5% decrease over 2015. The four top-producing longwall complexes operate two faces each, and three of them produced more than 10 million tons. Last year, 11 longwall installations produced at a capacity of 5 million tons per year (tpy) or more, compared to 17 in 2015.

This year, two longwall faces were removed. Bowie Resource Partners closed and sealed the Bowie No. 2 mine in Colorado, and American Coal’s New Era mine is no longer operating a longwall face in Illinois. Yearon- year, the total number of longwall mines dropped to 38 from 40. Similarly, the number of longwall faces dropped to 43 from 45. Five mines operate two longwall faces.

The new names that appear on the 2017 U.S. Longwall Census include Contura Energy, CNX Coal Resources, Coronado Coal and Panther Creek Mining. Contura Energy, the company that emerged from the Alpha Natural Resources bankruptcy, operates the Cumberland mine in Pennsylvania. CNX Resources operates CONSOL Energy’s longwall mines. Coronado purchased the Buchanan longwall mine from CONSOL Energy last year. Panther Creek purchased the American Eagle mine from Patriot Coal during its bankruptcy sale.

Robert E. Murray and the companies he controls (American Energy, American Coal, Foresight Energy and Murray American Energy) operate 14 longwall faces spread across Illinois (5), Ohio (2), Utah (1) and West Virginia (6). Two of Murray’s mines, Deer Run in Illinois and the Powhatan No. 6 in Ohio, are listed as idle. CNX Coal Resources is the No. 2 longwall producer with three mines and five faces in Pennsylvania. Alliance Resource Partners, Arch Coal, ERP Compliant Fuels and Warrior Met Coal operate three longwall faces.

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