WAYNESBURG – Consol Energy will temporarily lay off 200 employees at its Bailey Mine as it makes changes in its mining plan to abide by a state Environmental Hearing Board decision prohibiting it from mining beneath Kent Run at Ryerson Station State Park.
The recent EHB decision prohibiting mining beneath the stream will require the company to move its longwall mining machine to a new longwall panel before it finishes mining all the coal in the existing panel.
“Due to the EHB decision restricting our ability to mine within 100 feet of the Kent Run stream in the 3L panel in Ryerson Station State Park, this unfortunate action is necessary,” said Chuck Shaynak, senior vice president for CNX Coal Resource LP, the affiliate of Consol which operates the mine.
“The longwall move forced by this decision presents safety challenges to our employees who are placed in a position of having to recover the longwall in an area of the mine not designed for recovery,” Shaynak said.
The company has appealed the EHB decision. Shaynak said the company believes the decision is “patently wrong” and it hopes its appeal will prevent more permanent impacts to the company’s mining operations.
The mine employs about 360 workers. The affected workers were informed of the layoff Tuesday, the company said.
The employees will be called back to work once the longwall move is completed, though the company is not sure how long that might take, company spokesman Brian Aiello said.
Despite the workforce reduction, the company said it expects to maintain the mine’s previously announced operational and financial projections reported to investors last week.
The company had received a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection to mine beneath the stream in December. The issuance of the permit, however, was appealed by the Center for Coalfield Justice and Sierra Club.
An order issued Jan. 24 by EHB Judge Steven Beckman prohibited the company from mining within 100 feet of the stream until a hearing on the appeal could be heard in the future.
At a meeting with employees last week, company officials said the longwall machine was expected to reach the point at which it must stop to preserve the 100-foot buffer on Wednesday, necessitating the longwall move.
The company claims that as a result of the move it will have to abandon about 350,000 tons of coal in the existing panel valued at about $15.3 million.
The two environmental groups have claimed damage to the stream that would result from mining would violate Clean Streams Laws. Consol has maintained the stream can be restored by methods such as grouting or the use of a stream bed synthetic liner.
In an opinion on his decision, Beckman said testimony indicated there was the possibility that despite restoration work the mining could cause irreparable harm to the stream.
He also noted the company had failed to receive permission, as was required, from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to conduct stream restoration work within Ryerson Park.
Patrick Grenter, executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, said the company could have prevented the need for a layoff.
“It is shameful that Consol’s executives are once again forcing the hardworking members of our community to deal with the consequences of their bad decisions and poor planning,” he said.
“Consol is using real lives as a bargaining chip while the executives at the top line their own pockets. Consol knows, and the courts agree, that they could mine in such a way that protects Ryerson’s streams and maintains current staffing levels,” he said.
Consol also announced last week that it may sell its coal business this year or spin off the business to operate on its own. The company has been separating its coal and gas businesses over the past couple of years. In 2015, it spun off some of its coal assets to form CNX Coal Resources.