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Carbon surpasses Utah's counties in coal production

The coal industry in the Castle Valley region and across the state experienced a difficult year in 2007.

The Crandall Canyon closure, followed by the idling of the Aberdeen mine, resulted in a 7.1 percent decrease for a total statewide production of 24.3 million short tons, indicates the latest data compiled by the Utah Geological Survey.

The closures resulted in a 5.3 percent loss in mine-related employment, continued the department of natural resources agency.

Difficult mining conditions at Canyon Fuel Company's SUFCO and Dugout Canyon also contributed to production declines.

Nevertheless, Carbon surpassed all of Utah's counties in coal production in 2007.

Last year, Carbon's mining operations posted a record-high 11.8 million short ton production level, accounting for 48.6 percent of Utah's total.

Increases at Skyline and Westridge added significantly to Carbon County's overall production total.

In neighboring Emery County, coal production decreased to 5.8 million short tons in 2007, representing 23.7 percent of Utah's total, noted the state agency.

Extraction at Emery mines registered significantly less than the peak 17.3 ton production level posted in 1995.

Sevier County's only active mine, SUFCO, decreased production to 6.7 million short tons in 2007, accounting for 27.6 percent of Utah's total.

Projections for 2008 indicate Carbon County's extraction level will dip slightly to account for 46 percent of total statewide production in 2008.

Emery County's level is expected to increase to 27 percent of Utah's total coal production, while Sevier remains steady at 27 percent.

At the state level, Utah's coal production should increase slightly to 25.4 million short tons, predicted the forecast report.

New longwall extraction at C.W. Mining Company's Bear Canyon along with increased activity at Dugout and Hidden Splendor's Horizon operation should offset losses resulting from Aberdeen's closure, predicted the report.

Utah will produce the state's one billionth ton of coal in third quarter 2008, representing a major milestone for the state's coal industry, noted the report.

On a negative note, coal-related employment is expected to decrease by 134 positions to a total of 1,754 workers statewide, continued the Utah Geological Survey report.

But the average price of Utah coal is expected to increase by 6.7 percent to reach $26.87 per short ton.

The projection represents the highest price in nominal dollars since 1987.

One major issue facing coal operators involves increasingly difficult mining conditions, explained the state agency.

Adverse conditions frequently result in a higher ash product.

In order to mitigate the ash content problem, Canyon Fuel and Headwater have constructed two new coal-cleaning facilities in the Carbon County area.

To remedy reserve depletion and alleviate the potential hazards associated with mining at increasing depths of cover, several coal operators have looked at different locations.

UtahAmerican Energy recently received the necessary permits to open Lila Canyon in the Book Cliffs field, noted the Utah Geological Survey.

The state recently awarded the Cottonwood lease on the Wasatch Plateau field to Arch Coal.

Alton Coal Development is pursuing permits to open a surface mine in Kane County.

The proposed operations should replace the production losses experienced at current mines and keep Utah's levels near the 25 million ton mark, predicated the state agency.

However, the implementation of carbon constraints could curtail coal demand, pointed out the forecast report.

All planned coal-fired electricity generation plants in Utah remain on hold pending permit challenges or financing problems.

Furthermore, Rocky Mountain Power has announced that the company will not build another coal-fired generation plant until regulators develop carbon mitigation strategies, concluded the Utah Geological Survey report.

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