This month, coronavirus (COVID-19) enters the Coal Age lexicon. The disease, its acronym or a pandemic reference appears on the cover and at least five times in the Table of Contents. It’s there on almost every page in the News section. It’s mentioned in the recap of the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) quarterly stakeholder call (See Regulatory Update, p. 26). The Product News section (See p. 36) has a COVID-19 sanitizing container and last, but not least, it’s mentioned in Legally Speaking (See p. 40).
In that column, one of the points that attorney Brian Hendrix makes is that the mines didn’t wait for instructions from MSHA. They followed the guidelines issued by President Donald Trump’s administration and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and did the best they could to stop the spread of COVID-19. As readers will see in the news section, some U.S. mine operators took extreme measures. Alliance Resource Partners temporarily idled all of its Illinois Basin mines for most of April. Contura followed suit in Appalachia. Others, such as Coronado, were forced to temporarily idle production due to demand destruction brought about by a weakening economy, which is related to COVID-19. The other thing that most of these operators have in common is extensive underground mining operations.
Coal mines continue to operate in other parts of the world, such as Australia, Canada, India, Russia and South Africa. In Australia, BHP, the world’s largest mining company and the largest Australian coal producer, made a rather contrarian move and announced it would hire an additional 1,500 miners to support local economies. Coal production in Canada and India originates mostly from open-pit mines. South Africa entered a complete lockdown except for surface mined coal and it is now beginning to reopen some of its underground operations with strict guidance.
Obviously, practicing social distancing at open-pit mines is a little easier than doing the same at underground mining operations. Really, it’s not the mining process itself as much as transporting miners to and from the working face. In the continuous miner sections, the shuttle car operators are more than 6 ft (2 m) from the continuous miner operator. Miners can easily keep their distance in longwalls. The problem is the personnel carriers and the cages, and, of course, the shared ventilation system. That’s why sick miners need to stay home.
Moments like these define the character of individuals as well as an organization. Hopefully, COVID-19 will soon run its course and the world can try to return to a new normal — whatever that may be. Take care, stay safe and be kind. Enjoy this edition of Coal Age.