Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

May 3, 2014

Consol lays off 188 employees

OAKWOOD, Va. — Consol Energy announced on Friday afternoon that it has made a significant reduction in force at its Buchanan Mine, one of the region’s most prolific metallurgical mines working in the Pocahontas No. 3 coal seam.

Citing reduced met coal demands “particularly in Asia,” Consol announced that it has laid off 188 employees, including 39 salaried and 149 hourly employees, and will only operate on two production shifts per day with third shift operations limited to maintenance activities in the mine.

Consol recently completed a $24 million hoist upgrade designed to increase efficiency at the mine, Jimmy Brock, Consol’s chief operating officer of the coal division, said. Brock said the improvements will put Consol in a better position when market conditions improve.

Shock waves rippled throughout the coalfields in both Virginias following Consol’s announcement. U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who was traveling through southern West Virginia on a visit to the proposed route of the King Coal Highway characterized the situation as “frustrating.”

“We can’t get the message through to Washington,” she said, and added that other countries are moving away from nuclear energy and returning to coal-fired energy. “We’re exporting coal to Germany,” Capito said.

U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., expressed his concern over the announcement. “My heart goes out to these coal miners and their families who will be losing their job as a result (of the elimination of one production shift),” Griffith was quoted in a press release as stating.

“The layoff announced today is directly correlated to a slowdown with the steel industry in Asia, which translates into a reduced demand for metallurgical coal,” Griffith stated. He attributed at least part of the problem to President Obama’s “war on coal,” according to the press release. “In the past few years, I have seen too many layoffs, too many slowdowns and too many closures in Southwest Virginia and throughout the United States.”

Virginia State Senator Phillip P. Puckett, D-Russell, said that layoffs in the coalfields are especially difficult for the coal miners and their families, but added that everyone in the coalfields feels the loss.

“The market dictates what happens in the coal industry,” Puckett said. “I have noticed recently as I drive through the district that there’s a lot of coal laying on the ground and that’s not good.”

West Virginia State Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, who was discussing the need for highway improvements in the southern part of the state, also commented on Consol’s announcement. He pointed out that each good-paying job in the coal industry has a multiplying effect on the entire region.

“An announcement like this has an impact on every one of us,” Cole said.

Cathy St. Clair, a Consol spokesperson, said that the scheduling change at the Buchanan Mine “is being made to control inventories and to align with metallurgical coal demand,” she wrote in response to an email message seeking additional comment. “The company will continue to monitor market conditions and respond accordingly,” she wrote.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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