On January 4 Signal Peak Energy, which operates the former Bull Mountain mine near Roundup in Musselshell County, lifted a month-long force majeure declared after the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) shut the mine in early December because of higher-than-allowed CO concentrations in a mined-out section of the mine. Company spokesman Mike Dawson confirmed the force majeure no longer was in effect and the mine was back in full production.

Despite last year’s interruptions, Signal Peak made progress in continuing to ramp up production of subbituminous coal. According to MSHA, the mine turned out 5.13 million tons of coal in 2011, up from 4.38 million tons in 2010. Eventually, Signal Peak’s annual output is expected to reach approximately 12.5 million tons.      Bud Clinch, executive director of the Montana Coal Council, reflected on Signal Peak’s difficult year of operations. “They’ve had a series of problems—startup problems with the longwall and roof falls and high levels of carbon monoxide,” he said.

When the mine is shut down, Clinch said, it impacts the state’s overall production. Montana produced 44.7 million tons of coal in 2010. 2011 figures were not yet available in early 2012.