Carbon surpasses Emery, Sevier coal production levels
Bolstered by significant extraction increases at the Andalex and Dugout Canyon mines, Carbon County produced the majority of Utah's coal in 2004.
Carbon's production total registered at 8.8 million short tons last year, up from 7.1 million short tons in 2003.
Starting in 2005, all new extraction activity at the Skyline operation will be in the company's northern leases located in Carbon County. In the past, the mining at Skyline occurred in Emery County.
Emery County has led coal production statewide since 1990. But Emery dropped below Carbon and Sevier counties due to Skyline's temporary closure as well as decreased extraction activity at the Bear Canyon, Deer Creek and Crandall Canyon operations
Emery County mines produced 5.5 million short tons of coal in 2004, compared to 8.9 million short tons in 2003 and 17.3 million tons in 1995.
The state's latest coal forecast compiled by the Utah Geological Survey indicates that Emery County could witness a resurgence in production in the event the proposed Lila Canyon mine starts operation.
Sevier County's only active mine, Sufco, beefed up production to 7.6 million short tons in 2004, representing an increase of 6.2 percent compared to 2003 totals.
During 2004, the number of active mines in Utah decreased from 14 to 13 as Whisky Creek closed operation. The number of employees in the coal industry declined from 1,583 to 1,523.
As Skyline dropped employees, the Emery mine was increasing operations, resulting in a modest overall decline of 60 employees between 2003 and 2004.
Coal-related employment totals are projected to increase by 236 workers in 2005 due to the reopening of Skyline and the continued hiring at the Emery mine, noted the industry forecast.
Employment totals could jump by an additional 200 to 300 people in 2006 and 2007 if the proposed Lila Canyon and Columbia mines come online.
Production efficiency at Utah's coal mines dipped slightly last year, from 6.35 short tons per employee hour in 2003 to 5.99 tons in 2004.
Utah's miner efficiency level in 2004 registered significantly lower than the 8.33 tons per western coal employee hour recorded by the United States Energy Information Adminstration during 2003.
Miner productivity fell below 5 tons per employee hour as recently as 1991. In fact, the 1,523 coal mine employees working during 2004 is just 66.4 percent of the labor force employed as recently as 1991.
On average, each employee produced 14,200 tons during 2004, down only slightly from 14,600 tons in 2003, but still higher than the 1990's average of 11,600 tons per employee and significantly higher than the 1980's average of 5,300 tons per employee.
Mining productivity projections for 2005 suggest a significant increase to 7.05 short tons per employee per hour due to increased production from longwall operations.
As production in the Wasatch Plateau diminished in 2004, Book Cliffs mines had to increase their production to meet growing demand. Book Cliffs coal accounted for 38.9 percent of total production in 2004, the largest in at least the last 25 years, as compared to 30.2 percent in 2003. Overall production from mines in the Book Cliffs increased by 21.9 percent in 2004 and is predicted to increase by an additional 1.3 percent in 2005.
The ANDALEX Tower Division, which operates the Aberdeen and Pinnacle mines, has more than doubled production since 2003, while Canyon Fuel's Dugout mine increased production by 30 percent. Problems at West Ridge caused production to fall by 24.2 percent last year.
Book Cliffs coal production could become more significant in the future with the proposed opening of the Lila Canyon and Columbia mines.
Mines in the Wasatch Plateau coal field accounted for 60 percent of Utah's coal production in 2004, down from 68.8 percent in 2003. The main reason for the decrease was the temporary closure of the Skyline mine, which dropped from producing 2.8 million short tons in 2003 to 551,000 short tons in 2004, an 80.1 percent drop.
In addition, production at Co-op's Bear Canyon mines declined by 52.5 percent in 2004, Crandall Canyon production declined by 17.9 percent and Deer Creek production was down by 14.8 percent. Conversely, production from Sufco, the largest coal mine in Utah, increased by 6.2 percent in 2004. Also, production at the Horizon mine nearly tripled from 108,000 short tons in 2003 to 292,000 short tons in 2004.
Coal production resumed in the Emery coal field in 2002 with the reopening of the Emery mine. The mine produced 243,000 short tons in 2003 before re closing in August 2002 due to contract and ownership issues. The Emery mine reopened in August 2004, producing 256,000 short tons before the year was finished, and is expected to remain open for the indefinite future.
The remainder of Utah's coal fields have remained inactive for years. Several fields, such as the Kaiparowits Plateau, which holds an estimated 9.1 billion tons of recoverable coal, cannot be mined because of land-use restrictions and/or the fields are too remote for economical transport to market. However, a new surface mine is being proposed in the Alton coal field in southern Utah. This mine has the potential to produce up to 2.0 million short tons of coal a year.