By Steve Fiscor, Editor-in-Chief
Even though the ownership in some cases may have changed, the fleet of U.S. longwalls remained intact and two new longwall mines, Tunnel Ridge and Sugar Camp, were added to the list this year. The total number of longwall mines, according to Coal Age’s annual U.S. longwall census now stands at 43 and, with five mines operating two faces, the total number of faces is 48. Two of the mines are operating in soft rock in Wyoming. The rest are cutting coal using the most productive underground technique, longwall mining.
The other major change that readers will note on the census is the emergence of the Caterpillar brand name. Last year, Caterpillar entered the underground coal business in a big way when it acquired Bucyrus. Seeing the Cat brand in the longwall census may seem odd, but no more peculiar than when the Bucyrus name first appeared after the company acquired Deutsche Bergbau Technik (DBT). As far as equipment, this was a change in name only. The industry is still waiting to see which operator will be the first to purchase major pieces of yellow longwall equipment.
CONSOL Energy remains the leading U.S. longwall producer with 11 faces. Arch Coal and Murray Energy operate five longwall mines. Last year, Alpha Natural Resources acquired Massey Energy and the Revolution longwall mine in West Virginia. Likewise, Walter Energy acquired the North River mine in Alabama from Chevron Mining. Alpha Natural Resources and Walter Energy each have one mine operating two longwall faces. Both companies operate three longwall mines and four longwall faces.
Alliance Resource Partners commissioned the Tunnel Ridge longwall mine in West Virginia. Tunnel Ridge is the company’s second longwall. It also operates the Mountain View mine in West Virginia.
Cline Resources reorganized its Illinois Basin coal mines and ancillary assets as Foresight Energy. Foresight Energy owns Mach Mining, which operates the most productive longwall mine in the U.S. MClass Mining operates the Sugar Camp mine, which has been designed to accommodate four longwalls. The mine began operating its first longwall last year.
With 13 faces, West Virginia remains the longwall leader, followed by Pennsylvania (7), Alabama (6), and Utah (5).
Looking at the numbers, the average U.S. longwall mine has a cutting height of 94 inches, a panel width (or face length) of 1,086 ft, and a panel length of 10,321 ft. Last year, those numbers were 88 inches, 1,055 ft and 10,724 ft respectively. A total of 17 longwalls operate in the Pittsburgh No. 8 seam. The maximum overburden on average reaches 1,206 ft. Except for a few mines in Utah, most are developed with 3-entry gates. Using a 1,734-hp double-drum, ranging-arm shearer, they take a 38-inch cut. The average yield setting on the shield is 988 tons. Most (41 faces) are high voltage (4,160 volts).
As far as extremes, the deepest longwall mine is the West Ridge mine in Utah, operating at a depth of 3,000 ft. CONSOL Energy’s Bailey Enlow Fork Complex operates the longest faces, four 1,500-ft faces. At 21,500 ft, Signal Peak Energy’s Bull Mountain mine has the longest panel. Arch Coal’s West Elk and SUFCO mines are operating 2,805-hp shearers.
The Year in Review
During October, Blue Mountain Energy’s Deserado mine was recognized by the Colorado Mining Association (CMA) for achieving a historic safety milestone, completing 365 days without a lost time accident. During the one-year period, an average of 167 miners worked with care over 300,000 hours producing more than 2.5 million raw tons of coal without a single reported lost time accident. This is only the second time in the mine’s 29-year history that workers completed 365 days with no lost time injuries, the last during the years 2002-2003.
At a celebration held during October 24, 2011, CMA President Stuart Sanderson read a proclamation commending the company, its management and employees for the successful creation of a culture of mine safety. And the company sweetened the pot with bonuses including $365 for working an entire year injury free. “Our safety record begins with the support of top management, including the board of directors, and works its way through our whole team of miners,” said Al Hillard, mine manager, Deserado mine. “We have great people that not only look out for themselves, but for the other guy as well.”
Peabody Energy operates only one U.S. longwall, the Twentymile mine, but it’s one of the best. The company recently announc