Standing in the BMX Mine Underground Training Academy, about 600 feet below the Earth’s surface in West Finley Township, Consol Energy Chief Operating Officer Jimmy Brock gave a dozen reporters and state legislators his assessment Friday of what is the world’s largest underground coal complex.
The complex, a combination of Consol’s Bailey, Enlow Fork and BMX mines, is a $2 billion project that opened in March. Brock spoke to the longevity of the mines that produce 9,000 tons of thermal coal per hour. That yield is processed through Bailey Mine’s massive coal preparation plant that daily fills between five and nine 100-car trains seven days a week.
Consol provided the tour a week after the Environmental Protection Agency issued proposed rules that, if approved, would make it difficult for many of the nation’s coal-fired power plants to come into compliance.
While the proposed rules may not be enacted for a few years, Consol’s management appeared to be unfazed, at least for now.
Brock remained steadfast in his outlook.
Noting that nearly 40 percent of U.S. electricity generation comes from coal, he sees the resource playing a role in the nation’s energy mix for years to come.
“I don’t think coal is going anywhere anytime soon,” Brock said.
“I believe these longwall coal mines here will be the last ones operating, but that will be long after I’ve been here,” he said.
Brock and other Consol executives noted when the company spent the $2 billion on BMX, it also created numerous production efficiencies to make the company a low-cost producer.
According to Brock, the company is sealing about 85 percent, or 25 miles, of the Enlow Fork Mine, which at 33.3 square miles is nearly identical in size to the island of Manhattan. He said the move will save the company $3.4 million a year in power costs.
At the same time, BMX is projected to produce 5 million tons of coal this year.
The complex, which straddles Washington and Greene counties and employs 2,500 people, has a total economic impact of $3.5 billion.
State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, who toured the site Friday with other state legislators, was quick to attest how Consol’s operations benefit Greene County, where its annual taxes account for more than half the county’s revenue.
The only way commissioners can raise additional revenue is by raising real estate taxes, which residents despise, Snyder explained.
With Consol as a major taxpayer in Greene County, the company’s payments help to keep taxes low.
John Pippy, who heads the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, which represents about 300 companies that mine bituminous coal, said the fuel’s economic impact on Pennsylvania is big.
He referred to a recent study the alliance commissioned from the Pennsylvania Economy League, which found the industry has a $4 billion annual impact that accounts for 31,000 jobs across more than 30 counties.
Dan Yanchak, supervisor of the BMX coal prep plant, said it has about 130,000 tons of raw coal stored on the site, but that amount turns over in 20 hours as the product is loaded into trains supplied by both Norfolk Southern and CSX.
Each train has either 100 or 110 cars, which are loaded in about 90 minutes.
While BMX produces mostly thermal coal for use in power plants, it also produces a smaller amount of metallurgical coal for steelmaking. Yanchak said that type of coal is exported.
He said 75 percent of BMX’s output is for domestic use, with the remaining 25 percent sent to Consol’s Baltimore terminal for international export.
Earlier, Brock noted the efficiencies Consol built into the BMX project helped it weather the past winter well.
While other producers were complaining about how the winter weather hindered their ability to supply coal, Consol saw the opposite.
“We delivered record-breaking first-quarter performance despite the most severe winter in several years,” he said.
Pippy said earlier Pennsylvania’s abundance of coal and its ability to provide competitively priced electricity also helps low- and middle-income families keep their costs under control.
“It’s about turning on the lights and the cost of turning on the lights,” Snyder said.