Oxbow lays off most remaining miners

Oxbow Mining said today it is temporarily idling its remaining operations at its Elk Creek coal mine at Somerset and laying off 115 more employees.

The development follows the permanent layoffs of about 150 employees at the start of October and comes as a further blow to the economy of the North Fork Valley.

The layoffs stem from a mine fire that forced Oxbow to abandon its longwall mining equipment, which costs tens of millions of dollars.

“We are idling the mine until we are able to install a replacement longwall and other equipment,” Oxbow Mining president Mike Ludlow said in a news release. “We are working on the engineering and procurement of a replacement longwall and other equipment as quickly as possible.”

Oxbow also is continuing to work on developing new coal reserves in the Oak Mesa area of the North Fork Valley.

The mine is retaining about 20 people to maintain the mine and prepare for future operations.

The mine issued a layoff notice to employees and state and local officials today.

Oxbow is a subsidiary of Oxbow Carbon LLC, owned by billionaire Bill Koch. Oxbow has been producing coal in the North Fork Valley since 1995 and opened the Elk Creek Mine in 2001. It produces a low-sulfur coal for domestic and international markets. At its peak in 2008 it was one of the top-producing underground coal mines in the country, mining more than 6 million tons a year and employing more than 350 workers.

“Oxbow Mining has successfully supplied western bituminous coal into Asia and Latin America and we will continue to supply and expand our customer base to provide this high-quality coal worldwide,” Ludlow said. “While the Elk Creek Mine is idle, Oxbow will continue to supply customers with a blend of stockpile coal and coal from third parties.”

The company also supplies domestic “stoker” coal used by North Fork Valley residents for heating.

“We intend to honor our commitment to the local market through the winter,” said Ludlow.

Oxbow’s current problems began a year ago today when it experienced what’s called a bump, or a catastrophic failure of support pillars in a previously mined-out area.

The bump created an air blast and disrupted normal ventilation of the mine, eventually leading to spontaneous combustion and an unseen fire that the mine was able to detect through a rise in carbon monoxide and other gases.


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