OAKWOOD, Va. — Officials of Consol’s Buchanan Mine announced Tuesday that the company intends to start a $100 million expansion at the mine geared toward pumping up the mine’s annual production by almost 25 percent, while streamlining elements of the mine’s existing underground haulage and on-site storage capacity as well as improving the mine’s water delivery and treatment system.

Prior to a series of roof falls at the mine in the spring of 2007 that damaged some of the mine’s ventilation system and prompted Consol to close the mine in July 2007, the mine was annually producing 4.8 to 5.1 million tons of low-vol, metallurgical coal from the Pocahontas No. 3 seam, termed by geologist Marshall Miller as the “world standard of metallurgical coal.”

At the end of December 2007, contract met coal was selling for almost $98 per ton, according to Energy Information Administration data, but by late April 2008, cost estimates for met coal now range from a low $105 per ton for coal in long-term contracts to almost $150 per ton on the spot market, according to some industry insiders.

The expansion and improvement project should be completed by 2011 and bring 40 new jobs to the mine, according to a Consol press release. Specific projects in the overall plan include; “Upgrades to the preparation plant at Page, Va., including improvements to the water delivery and treatment systems ... construction of a new 7,200 ton raw coal storage silo; installation of a new vertical pocket belt” in one of the ventilation shafts to increase capacity for lifting coal out of the mine and “modifications to the existing underground haulage system,” according to the press release.

John Zachwieja, Consol’s vice president of Central Appalachian Operations was quoted in the press release as saying that in addition to the 40 new jobs, “There will be a lot of construction jobs needed over the next two and one-half years.” Zachwieja was also quoted as stating that improvements to the water delivery and treatment system will help with operational needs during “the dry part of the year,” and also to provide, “a continuous supply of water available for emergency fire fighting,” according to the press release.

Cathy St. Clair, a company spokesperson said that Consol human resources personnel will likely recruit the new coal miners through regional job fairs as well as through other employment programs over the next two years. Consol also operates a training program for new coal miners and may draw from that pool as well.

St. Clair said the company does not have a timeline as to how long the construction jobs will be available at the mine.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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