Among them: As many as 3 million tons of high-sulfur steam coal cover the ground at the mine site near Hillsboro in Montgomery County. The mine owners, possibly because of the huge stockpile, are in no hurry to resolve a lingering carbon monoxide issue and reopen the mine.
Do not believe the rumors because they are untrue, Gary Broadbent, assistant general counsel for Murray Energy Corp. and official spokesman for both Murray and Foresight, advised. Privately owned Murray, based in St. Clairsville, Ohio, acquired a major ownership stake in St. Louis-based Foresight in early spring, and some Murray executives since have assumed top positions at Foresight.
Deer Run does not have a 3 million ton stockpile, Broadbent said. Such a figure exceeds the mine’s stockpile capacity, he added, without saying how much coal was on the ground. Moreover, mine owners were working hard to restart Deer Run, he insisted.
Deer Run ceased production on March 26 after elevated levels of carbon monoxide were detected. However, both the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have refused to publicly disclose actual CO readings, which apparently have fluctuated over the past few months.
In late June, DNR spokesman Chris Young said CO numbers had “remained low” over the previous week, although he could not predict when the mine would be back in production.
A few days later, Young provided another brief update. “The company has submitted a new multiphase proposal beginning with an underground assessment and pointing toward an eventual goal of returning to production,” he said. The proposal is under review by MSHA and DNR staff, but there apparently was no timetable for a decision.
An assessment team was allowed to go underground in early May, ostensibly to check for a possible CO source and/or confirm the CO threat had ended. According to DNR, no obvious CO source was discovered.
Some state mining officials have surmised that a “hotspot,” perhaps in a mine rib, might be responsible for the CO readings that on occasion have exceeded ambient levels. If that is the case, state and federal mine-safety officials have not said so.
Deer Run, one of Foresight’s newest longwall mines, is located in an area of west-central Illinois where the geography has produced hotspots in underground mines, according to one state mining source.
Whatever the reason for the mine’s lengthy shutdown, elected officials in Hillsboro and Montgomery County area getting increasingly nervous. Deer Run provides more than 125 good-paying jobs and generates about $1 million annually in local taxes.
“This is a huge hit to our county,” said Hillsboro Mayor Brian Sullivan. “County revenue is in trouble if this thing closes down.” Sullivan personally thinks Deer Run probably will reopen, albeit not soon. The mayor believes it could be months before the mine is running coal again.
When it was active, Deer Run was one of Illinois’ largest coal producers. In 2014, just its second full year of operation, the mine turned out 5.5 million tons. Its output reached 1.7 million tons in the first quarter of 2015, meaning it was on track to produce nearly 7 million tons this year.