By Steve Fiscor

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has designated mining as critical to U.S. infrastructure.

While that means that coal suppliers can continue to operate mines during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, they must also follow the policies issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Common sense dictates that, if these coal operators want to continue with business, they need a healthy workforce.

Two key players in the coal business, CONSOL Energy and Alliance Resource Partners, made announcements yesterday related to the COVID-19 pandemic. CONSOL Energy temporarily idled production at one of its three mines. Alliance will idle Illinois Basin operations until April 15, but its mines in Appalachia will continue to operate.

CONSOL Energy reported it was informed late last week that two employees at the Bailey mine tested positive for COVID-19. Both were asked to self-isolate for 14 days. The Pennsylvania Department of Health and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) was notified and the company said it was communicating with these agencies to ensure it takes the requisite measures for the safety of employees.

“The health and safety of our employees is paramount, and we have taken various precautions over the past few weeks to minimize risks,” CEO of CONSOL Energy Jimmy Brock said. “However, out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to temporarily curtail production at the Bailey mine for a two-week period.

“We will perform a precautionary deep cleaning of the facilities while attempting to determine if any other employees were at risk from exposure. We will continue to monitor the issue closely in order to limit potential exposure to other employees, contractors, family members and the community.”

Production will continue at the company’s Enlow Fork mine, Harvey mine and central prep plant to ensure a stable fuel supply for the energy sector.

For the past six weeks, however, Alliance said it been working at reduced levels while evaluating the needs of its customers amid the disruptions caused by the pandemic. The company believes these disruptions will continue for the immediate near future and this is why it decided to temporarily idle coal production at all of its Illinois Basin mines through April 15. The company also said the actual return to production may be accelerated or extended based upon the business needs of its customers.

“As the year progresses, coal production at all of our operations will be further modified to match existing sales commitments of approximately 28 million tons for 2020,” Chairman, President and CEO of Alliance Resource Partners Joe Craft said.

“It is important to note that approximately 75% of our domestic sales are targeted to states that depend on coal, more than any other fuel, to generate electricity,” Craft said. “As serious as the disruption caused by the virus has been to the citizens of these states, imagine the impact if our miners didn’t show up every day to ensure the reliable supply of this essential fuel necessary to keep the lights on. We remain in constant contact with our customers and stand ready to meet their needs for this essential fuel.”

Craft said he anticipates Alliance’s total sales tons for 2020 will be approximately 25% below initial expectations.

“[Our] highest priorities remain safeguarding the employees’ health and safety, supporting the communities in our operating areas and serving our customers by continuing to safely and reliably operate our critical infrastructure,” Craft said. “We are all in this together. We will get through this and be stronger for it.”