Throughout the United States, mining companies saw the rise in metallurgical coal prices as an opportunity to diversify their operations. The price of dirtier, hotter-burning steam coal had dropped as natural gas became the cheap and friendlier fuel for power plants. Producing for two markets gave coal companies an opportunity to divide their eggs between two baskets.
Mining operations sprung back to life, including several in Alabama. In Abernant, North Johns and Rock Mountain Lakes, residents who had become accustomed to a quiet life began to have their peace disrupted by blasting at the mines and heavy trucks on their roads.
“It got bad for a while, but it has gotten better recently,” said Doug Lawrence, an EMT with the Birmingham Fire Department who lives in Adger.
When the Drummond Co. asked Jefferson County to close Blue Creek Road in 2011, residents packed the county commission chambers to protest. The road, which bisects the coal field where Mr. Tom is headed, gave quicker access for emergency vehicles, they said. Many residents worried what blasting was doing to the foundations of their homes. Others complained of the coal dust falling off the trucks.
At those meetings, Lawrence served as a spokesman for the residents. Today, he says he knows mining hasn’t gone away for good, but the disruption to the community is not as bad as it was.
“Things have gotten quieter,” he said. “They’re not mining as hard as they were this time a year ago.”
That’s likely because demand is not as strong as it was this time a year ago, Johnson said.
As quickly as the demand for metallurgical coal spiked, in the last year the price has fallen just as fast.
Coal that was selling for more than $300 per ton is going for half that much today.
“A lot of coal is being stockpiled and not being burned,” Johnson said. “They’re mining it, but they’re holding on to it.”
Johnson says the next several months will likely reveal whether the downturn is a cyclical slump or something more long-term. In the meantime, he says, most of the metallurgical coal operations are still shipping.
“We’ll have to get through the winter to see if this is going to turn around,” he said.<< previous 1 2 3 4 5 next >>