When the official/final production numbers are in early this year, they are expected to show Illinois extracted about 60 million tons of coal in 2015, eclipsing its output of 58 million tons in 2014, according to Phil Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association.
Gonet does not know what the new year will bring, either in the way of fresh opportunities or obstacles for Illinois coal, so he is not making any predictions for 2016.
But he and others point to several optimistic developments that could bode well for the state’s coal output this year. Foremost, perhaps, is the continued production ramp-up at the relatively new Hamilton No. 1 longwall mine, formerly known as White Oak No. 1, near McLeansboro in southern Illinois’ Hamilton County.
The mine is now operated by Hamilton County Coal LLC, a subsidiary of Alliance Resource Partners of Tulsa, Oklahoma. After financing much of the mine’s development in the past couple of years, Alliance acquired the operation in 2015 from privately owned White Oak Resources LLC.
Since then, the mine’s production has continued to climb, to more than 4 million tons of high-sulfur coal from the Herrin No. 6 seam through the first three quarters of 2015, leaving it on pace to surpass 5 million tons for the entire year. That compared to its 2014 output of only 1.7 million tons.
Moreover, the Hamilton complex has room to expand. White Oak Resources once talked of developing multiple underground mines in the area. The mine also is a low-cost operation, which should keep it high on the priority list of Alliance, which has curtailed operations at a couple of older, higher-cost Illinois Basin mines.
Sunrise Coal Co., a Hallador Energy subsidiary and newcomer to Illinois, is expected in early 2016 to receive a final permit decision from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for its proposed Bulldog underground mine in Vermilion County. Bulldog would produce about 3 million tons of steam coal annually, although mining probably would not commence until 2017.
Foresight Energy Partners could get its idled Deer Run longwall mine near Hillsboro in Montgomery County back in operation in early 2016. The mine, which produced 5.5 million tons in 2014, was shuttered for much of 2015 because of elevated levels of carbon monoxide. Deer Run contributed only about 1.7 million tons to Illinois’ coal production in 2015.
On the downside, however, is the Galatia underground mining complex in Saline County owned by Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp. In late 2015, the company’s American Coal subsidiary began transitioning production from the New Era mine to the New Future mine. The two mines turned out more than 11 million tons just two years ago, but New Future’s output is expected to be considerably less than that in 2016.