Oxbow still tries to revive longwall operations at Elk Creek Mine

Oxbow Corp.‘s Elk Creek Mine is currently operating at a fraction of its normal production rate as it continues to deal with a problem of spontaneous combustion that has temporarily stranded its longwall mining equipment.

That problem briefly shut down the mine in Somerset altogether in January following the first detection of high carbon monoxide levels that suggested underground heating occurring in the mine.

Elk Creek executive vice president Mike Ludlow said the company withdrew everyone from the mine Jan. 9 and disconnected power as an initial response to the incident in a remote part of the mine.

A portion of its workforce of some 300 people was furloughed that month, but Ludlow said he believes everyone was back to work by early February. Miners have been using what is called continuous mining equipment to excavate new areas of the mine for longwall operations.

“Everybody is fully employed and we’re very busy doing development work and construction work for future mining,” he said.

Before longwall operations can start up in a new area, however, the company needs to recover the longwall equipment from an area it had sealed off to cut off the supply of oxygen where the burning has been occurring. Ludlow said that sealing operation was conducted in consultation with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

“We submit plans to them to mitigate the problem and to proceed with other activities. They review those plans and have the approval authority,” he said.

Ludlow said Oxbow has no intentions of losing any longwall equipment.

“Our plans are to recover it and put it back into production,” he said.

He said he can’t speculate on when that will happen, but the intent is for it to occur in time to avoid any break in employment for miners.

The mining will occur in a newly leased area, he said. Oxbow mines federally leased coal.

Oxbow has operated the mine since 2001. Ludlow said this is the first problem with spontaneous combustion there. He said the company never found the burning coal, which was most likely in an area that had been previously mined and isn’t accessible.


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