Ohio Valley Coal Industry Braces As COVID-19 Impacts Electricity Demand, International Exports

Mar 24, 2020
Peabody Energy Inc. via Wikimedia Commons

As states across the Ohio Valley order the closure of non-essential businesses to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, coal mines will remain open. But as with many industries, the global pandemic is straining the coal sector, and some experts say the already struggling industry could face intense challenges in the months ahead as electricity demand flags and international exports stall.

“What we’re going to see is a big drop in Q2, that is without question,” said Brian Lego, referencing the coming second quarter reports, which will reflect the stark new economic reality. Lego is an economic forecaster who studies the coal industry with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University.


Adelina Lancianese

Lynn Estel Stanley was the kind of coal mine foreman who wanted to know if there was a safety problem, and would always be the one to go fix it himself. He was also the kind of miner who refused to slow down, even when his men told him he was overexerting himself. But when he was 69, his doctor told him it was time to stop for good.

Stanley wasn’t surprised. He knew he was getting sick. “It kept getting progressively worse and harder to breathe to the point where I just couldn’t do my job, I didn’t have enough oxygen,” he said.

He had watched coal-miner relatives die of black lung, a form of lung disease caused by breathing in coal and rock dust. Particulates lodge in the lungs, causing the tissue to harden and restrict the amount of oxygen that can enter the bloodstream.

The Australian company that owns a coal mine in McLean County announced on Feb. 21 that it's selling the troubled project and the Kentucky company operating the mine has filed for bankruptcy.

The Poplar Grove mine in rural McLean County, about 30 miles south of  Owensboro, is operated by Hartshorne Mining Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Paringa Resources, based in Perth, Australia.

Paringa has filed for Chapter 11 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Kentucky.

McLean County officials are finalizing plans for a “rapid response” to assist coal miners who recently lost their jobs on one day’s notice.  

The Poplar Grove coal mine that began operations in December 2018 has encountered a series of financial and geological troubles.

The Poplar Grove mine, about 30 miles south of Owensboro, is owned by the Australian company Paringa Resources and operated by its wholly-owned subsidiary, the Hartshorne Mining Group.

Hartshorne sent a letter to some employees on Feb. 17 informing them they’d be terminated the following day. 

McLean County Judge Executive Curtis Dame said he’s talked with some of the miners and estimates at least 40 of them have lost their jobs, about half the workforce at the mine.

Some of the employees at the Poplar Grove coal mine in McLean County, Kentucky, received a letter on Feb. 17 informing them that their employment will end Feb. 18.

The letter is from Hartshorne Mining Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Paringa Resources in Australia.

The letter said the project will transition from two mining units to one and some employees will be retained as the effort continues to seek additional financing or possibly the sale of the mine.

Paringa has encountered financial and geological problems at the Poplar Grove mine.

Jeff Young

On a recent soggy Wednesday evening, dozens of West Virginians packed a conference room inside the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center to discuss the need for a “just transition” for coal-impacted communities.

As the nation grapples with climate change, the need for a fair transition for workers and communities that depend upon coal jobs and revenue has also gained traction. Nearly every 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful has touted some version of the idea, ranging from the expansive “Green New Deal” championed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to former Vice President Joe Biden’s more modest mix of worker training and direct assistance for coal country.

An Australian company operating a new coal mine in western Kentucky is requesting an extended suspension on the trading of its stock.

The company has been having financial and operating issues at the Buck Creek Mining Complex in McLean County. 

The owner of the mine, Paringa Resources, made a request to the Australian Securities Exchange to keep the stock off the market until Feb. 25.

Paringa previously suspended trading of its securities until Jan. 28 to give it time for discussion with the company’s lenders.

The Kentucky mine is operated by Hartshorne Mining Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Paringa.

Brittany Patterson

An attorney for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet told a federal judge Wednesday that the bankrupt coal company Blackjewel has accrued nearly 300 environmental violations since it entered bankruptcy in July.

“It’s essential that these violations are addressed, abated, and that they stop accruing,” Cabinet attorney Lena Seward told bankruptcy judge Frank Volk in the hearing. “There is potential for human and environmental harm.” 


Kentucky Leads The Country In 2020 Coal Retirements

Jan 21, 2020
Erica Peterson

Two of the largest coal-fired power plant retirements in the U.S. in 2020 are happening in Kentucky.

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Paradise Unit 3 near Drakesboro is scheduled to shutter this December while Owensboro’s Elmer Smith Generating Station will cease operations in June.

These older, more inefficient power plants are the latest to be priced out of the market, and are now trudging toward the elephant graveyard of legacy coal-fired plants in the Ohio Valley.

Together, power generation from the two plants represents more than a quarter of the total coal-fired capacity set to retire this year, based on an analysis using U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

Paringa Resources

An Australian company operating a new coal mine in western Kentucky has asked the Australian stock exchange to extend the halt of trading of the company’s securities. Paringa Resources is facing financial and geological challenges.

The Australian Securities Exchange first suspended the trading of Paringa Resources stocks at the request of the company on Dec. 23.

That’s when Paringa reported that its Poplar Grove Mine in McLean County encountered a geological fault that had not been identified by consultants who prepared the original plan for the mine. 

Courtesy of protesters on site.

For the second time since summer, eastern Kentucky coal miners are blockading a railroad track to protest unpaid wages. The new blockade, which was started Monday afternoon by Quest Energy miners, echoes the months-long blockade by Blackjewel coal miners over the summer and speaks to a growing discontent in Appalachian coal country.

“It’s hard to go to work between two rocks and not get paid for it,” said a miner who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. “There’s men that’s getting their power bills cut off and men’s children starving.”

The two miners called on their workmates to join them. By 7 p.m. Monday evening, an additional six men had arrived. Residents living near the blockade site in Blackburn Bottom, Pike County, provided the protesters with blankets, firewood and cases of water. Resources

An Australian company operating a new coal mine in western Kentucky filed a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Jan. 8 that said the company failed to make a payment on its debt and has suspended trading of its stock. 

Paringa Resources shipped its first load of coal from the Poplar Grove Mine in McLean County in April 2019 to Kentucky Utilities and Louisville Gas & Electric. 

Paringa announced at that time it had committed 70 percent of the coal from the mine to regional power companies in 2020.

Kenn W. Kiser,

A new study finds the closure of coal-fired power plants and transition to natural gas generation across the United States over a decade saved an estimated 26,610 lives due to a reduction in air pollution, with about a fifth of those avoided deaths in the Ohio Valley.

The coal-rich Ohio Valley states received outsized health benefits from the shift from coal to gas. The analysis found about 5,300 deaths were avoided in  Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. 

The study, published Monday in the Journal Nature Sustainability, examined the impact of the closure of 334 coal-fired units between 2005 and 2016. During that same time period, 612 new natural-gas-fired units were brought online.

A coal mine in Ohio County will close in a couple of months, forcing the layoff of about 250 workers. 

In a WARN notice sent to the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training on Thursday, the Western Kentucky Coal Company announced plans to close its Genesis Mine in Centertown on Feb. 24. 

The decision comes after parent company Murray Energy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October. Murray Energy also owns Midway Mine in Centertown and Pride Mine in Muhlenberg County. 

Coal companies are struggling to stay afloat as industries switch from coal to cheaper and cleaner forms of energy. 

Becca Schimmel

Union coal miners and retirees breathed a collective sigh of relief after the U.S. Senate passed a spending bill that includes support for miners’ pensions, which had been at risk due to the coal industry’s downturn. 

The bill, which funds the federal government for the coming year, also includes The Bipartisan American Miners Act which secures pension and health benefits for retirees.

The United Mine Workers says that without Congressional action about 82,000 retirees and widows could have lost some or all of their retirement benefits in 2020.