AP Exclusive: Defying downturn in coal, 2 new mines planned

From The Associated Press:

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — As mines close and the coal industry faces a seemingly endless run of bankruptcies and other bad news, a company backed by a $90 million investment is defying conventional wisdom by preparing to open two new mines next year in Appalachia, the hardest-hit coal region.

The mines in West Virginia and Virginia will create some 400 jobs in counties where unemployment ranges close to three times the national average, Ramaco Development CEO Randall Atkins told The Associated Press.

“It’s a fairly big deal, frankly, for southern West Virginia,” Atkins said.

Low prices for natural gas and new pollution regulations are turning many utilities off coal as their fuel of choice for generating electricity. U.S. coal-fired power capacity is down 15 percent since 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

This coal won’t be used for electricity but for steel manufacturing. Metallurgical coal prices are up lately due to a mix of international market factors. But Ramaco can make the mines work even at even fairly low prices, Atkins said.

The Elk Creek Mine in southern West Virginia and the Berwind Mine spanning the boundary between southern West Virginia and Virginia will be operational for around 17 years. A $90 million private equity investment should enable test mining at both sites to begin early next year.

Work on the Elk Creek Mine’s coal preparation plant will start even sooner, according to Kentucky-based Ramaco.

“We will start construction at the Elk Creek property just as soon as we get all the equipment lined up there,” Atkins said.

The company plans to begin talking with potential buyers in the next few weeks and could begin shipping coal under supply agreements in …

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