WAYNESBURG – Alpha Natural Resources said Wednesday it will close its Emerald Mine in Waynesburg by the end of next year because of weak market conditions and the mine’s uncertain geological conditions.
In its quarterly earnings report, the company said the decision was made to operate Emerald only until it completes the second longwall panel in the mine’s district D reserve, “which means the mine will likely cease production in the second half of 2015.”
The mine, which has been in operation for 37 years, employs about 500 workers. Employees were aware the mine would close in another year or two as it neared the end of its mineable reserves, said Steve Hawkins, Alpha spokesman.
“We believe most of the workers will be able to transfer to the Cumberland Mine,” Hawkins said. The company in its earnings report said it plans to increase production at Cumberland, also in Greene County, which should make up some of the production loss from the “higher cost” Emerald Mine.
The company is currently discussing with local management and the union about how best to make the transition, Hawkins said. Employees at both Emerald and Cumberland are represented by the United Mine Workers of America.
UMW spokesman Phil Smith said the union had discussions with the company a few months ago regarding the closing. Under the union contract, the employees have “panel rights,” which requires the company to offer the Emerald employees jobs at others mine provided it has jobs available, he said.
“We don’t anticipate any layoffs as a result of this,” Smith said. Some of the employees will retire and others will transfer to Cumberland, he said. Some of the Emerald employees have already begun work at Cumberland.
The Emerald Mine was opened in 1977 by the Emerald Mines Corp., a subsidiary of the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. Since that time it has had several owners. Alpha Natural Resources purchase Emerald and Cumberland, which were then owned by the Foundation Coal Co., in 2009.
Emerald shipped 3.8 million tons of coal in 2013, according to its annual report.
In response to the announcement,,state Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, and state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, said they will seek all available resources to counter the effects of the closing.
“The Emerald Mine has been a mainstay of the local economy for many years,” Snyder said. “While not a total surprise, the announcement that the mine likely will close in the second half of next year will require hard work, cooperation and resources to enable Greene County to not only overcome this setback but to emerge stronger from it.”
Snyder and Solobay said their staffs will be contacting company, industry, union and state officials to secure whatever resources are needed.
“The closing of the mine will create hardship for 500 workers and their families in Greene County,” Solobay said. “Our job is to work overtime, activate resources and ensure that those who are impacted receive the help they need to transition to new employment,” he said.
Alpha had announced last week that it plans to lay off 1,100 workers at its operations in West Virginia by mid-October, citing poor market conditions and federal regulations.