Several plants change hands as bankruptcies force owners to liquidate

by steve fiscor, editor

This year Coal Age’s 2019 Prep Plant Census tallies 155 preparation plants processing bituminous coal. The total population is 223 and 68 of those plants are currently idle. Some of them may reopen and many will not. West Virginia remains the industry leader with 63 plants, followed by Kentucky (58), Pennsylvania (20), Indiana (17) and Virginia (18).

The biggest change to this year’s census is ownership and name changes. During the last year, several bankruptcies were announced: Cambrian Coal, Colonial Coal, Westmoreland and Revelation (Blackjewel). New owners emerged from the bankruptcy sales and they ranged from existing large- and medium-size coal operators to creditors to entrepreneurs.

After purchasing the Armstrong coal assets in Kentucky, Murray Energy Corp. (MEC) formed Murray Kentucky Energy and began investing in the operations. The raw feed for the Midway plant was upgraded from 600 tons per hour (tph) to 1,200 tph. The Armstrong Dock is now known as Genesis and the Parkway plant is now the Pride prep plant.

MEC entered the metallurgical coal business when it purchased the Concord plant in Alabama (Oak Grove mine) and the Katie prep plant in West Virginia (Maple Eagle mine) through the Colonial bankruptcy. MEC formed a new holding company, Murray Metallurgical Coal Holdings, for these mines.

Bluestone Resources purchased the Pinnacle operation near Pineville, West Virginia, from the Colonial Coal bankruptcy during 2018. During the last year, they invested $7.4 million in the plant, replacing the belting on the conveyors, installing pumps and piping as well as new screening media. The clean coal and refuse conveyors were completely refurbished.

After completing the upgrade, Bluestone commissioned the plant in early August and was then forced to idle it due to market conditions. As of press time, they had managed to recall as many of the displaced workers as they could.

“We worked around the clock to find a solution that would get our workers back on the job,” said Jay Justice, owner, Bluestone Resources. “Our hard-working employees are the life-blood of our company and our state, and anytime there are layoffs, even temporarily, we know the pain and stress that causes a person and their loved ones. It’s something that we take extremely seriously. That’s why I was incredibly happy to report we were in a position to reopen the plant and get our folks back to work.”

Three companies bought active operations from Cambrian Coal during its bankruptcy sale. American Resources Corp. bought the Perry County Coal operations. Richmond Hill Capital Partners, a hedge fund that loaned money to Cambrian, bought the Clintwood Elkhorn Complex, which has plants in Kentucky and West Virginia. Pristine Clean Energy purchased Premier Elkhorn in Kentucky.

Industrial Minerals Group purchased several assets from Revelation Energy, which is owned by Blackjewel. They formed INMET Mining as a holding company for the operations they acquired during the bankruptcy process. The Cave Branch prep plant in Kentucky, and the Lone Mountain and Pigeon Creek prep plants in Virginia, now belong to INMET Mining. SunCoke Energy purchased the Coronet Jewell operation from Revelation Energy.

Chuck Ungurean formed CCU Coal & Construction and purchased the Buckingham operation in Ohio from Westmoreland Coal. Ungurean owned Oxford Coal and sold it to Westmoreland in 2015 and then repurchased the assets in February. CCU is now facing tough times with American Electric Power announcing the closure of the Conesville power plant. The company recently issues Warn notices to employees.

Arch Coal sold the Raven plant in Kentucky to CBD Resources during March 2019.

A private owner purchased Federal No. 2 from ERP Environmental Fund and renamed it Phoenix Federal No. 2. The operation remains idle.

JRL Energy Completes Upgrades

In January 2019, JRL Energy completed an upgrade to the Coalgood plant in Kentucky roughly 18 months after they purchased the operation. An MMD sizer was placed on the plant’s feed side to decrease the size of the feed for better separation and a more balanced material flow. They also added an additional clean coal transfer belt that gave them the ability to store and load different coal qualities.

When JRL purchased the plant and brought it online in spring 2017, they added froth cell agitators, a coarse refuse belt sampler, clarified water pump and base, and magnetite bin.

Coalgood is a very well-designed plant using a heavy-media vessel and large-diameter heavy-media cyclone, according to JRL. Prior to its purchase, the plant was idle for five years and JRL has invested more than $2 million to put the Coalgood prep plant back into service, which includes the sizer upgrade. They worked with Powell for engineering services. Management said the best part of getting this plant back online is seeing so many great people going back to work at a site with so much history and tradition.

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