The St. Louis-based company, the largest coal producer in Illinois, was expected to receive MSHA approval in early 2018 for a mine re-entry plan highlighted by the permanent sealing proposal. Foresight submitted the plan to MSHA on December 20.

“They have another hotspot area there,” said Art Rice, an official with the Illinois Office of Mines and Minerals in Benton. “The CO level went up and they had another fall.” According to Rice, the latest hotspot was found in early to mid-December.

“Through the existing boreholes they had, they were able to find out that they’ve got another hotspot over that fall area,” he said. “The fall they had was in the longwall tailgate area. The pressure caused another flare-up and they’ve had elevated CO readings” again.

Murray/Foresight spokesman Gary Broadbent declined to elaborate on the reasons for Foresight’s MSHA filing. “At this time, the partnership is uncertain as to when production will resume at its Deer Run mine” is all he would say.

It soon will be three years since Deer Run, also known as Hillsboro, last produced coal on a consistent basis. MSHA ordered the mine closed on March 26, 2015, after elevated levels of carbon monoxide gas were detected, apparently caused by a hard-to-get-to fire or hotspot in a mined-out area behind the longwall.

In the spring of 2016, Foresight requested and received permission from MSHA to temporarily seal the mine located a couple of miles outside of Hillsboro in Montgomery County. Hillsboro is about 65 miles northeast of St. Louis.

That was part of a lengthy effort by Foresight to extinguish the supposed blaze, in part by pumping nitrogen through surface drill holes into the mine. Over time, CO readings did, in fact, decline to more normal levels.

Foresight, which in the interim saw Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp. acquire a majority of the privately owned company, appeared to be working to reopen Deer Run but never publicly announced a planned restart date.

Any planned restart presumably will be delayed even more now that another hotspot has been discovered.

Deer Run produced 5.5 million tons of coal in 2014 and was in the process of ramping up even more in 2015 when it was closed. The mine operated sporadically over the next several months, turning out only 1.87 million tons in 2015. It produced no coal in both 2016 and 2017, according to MSHA.

Robert Moore, Foresight chairman, president and CEO, said in the fall of 2017 that the company was placing more coal sales internationally, mainly to Europe and Asia, in response to a “lackluster” steam coal market in the United States. Foresight sent 3.4 million tons into the export market through September and expected 2017 total export volumes to exceed 5 million tons.