Twentymile to ramp up production

Peabody evaluating reopening mine

Twentymile Coal Company plans to increase its coal production during the next several years, but the company's owner, Peabody Energy, is hesitant to make predictions about its growth.

"Our intent is to ramp up production at Twentymile based on conditions and customer demand," Peabody spokeswoman Beth Sutton said.

The company also is evaluating whether to reopen Empire Mine near Craig.

Peabody's group executive for Colorado operations, Charles Burggraf, made the announcement at the 107th National Western Mining Conference in Denver on Thursday.

In 2006, Peabody officials expect the company to introduce new longwall equipment to Twentymile, an underground mine near Hayden. Longwall mining uses a cutting head across a panel of coal, cutting the coal so it falls onto a conveyor for removal.

As Twentymile increases production, the company will add more shifts to the mine, which will require the company to hire more employees, Sutton said.

Workers at Twentymile have known that Peabody planned to ramp up production, Twentymile Human Relations Director Ron Spengler said.

The announcement comes just two months after Peabody officials announced plans to close Seneca Coal Mine, an open-surface mine near Hayden, because the economically viable reserves have been depleted.

Seneca will cease mining operations by the end of the year. Some employees will be retained to perform reclamation work at the mine.

Seneca employs about 100 Moffat and Routt County residents. Twentymile employs about 300 residents of both counties.

Although miners who lose their jobs when Seneca closes will have the option of applying to Twentymile, they won't necessarily receive preferential treatment during the hiring process.

"The decision to pursue other coal mining opportunities is up to the employees," Sutton said.

Peabody's decision about whether to reopen Empire Mine also will depend on market viability. Peabody purchased Empire and Twentymile last April from RAG Coal International.

Peabody is in the process of renegotiating its contract to supply coal to the Hayden Station. Seneca had filled the contract, which runs through 2011. Peabody can fill the contract through its subsidiaries or broker coal through other local mines, Sutton said.

Assessed at $27,728,800, Twentymile is the second highest taxpayer in Routt County, second only to Public Service Co. of Colorado, which operates the power plant in Hayden.

Twentymile set a personal record last year, when the mine produced 8.7 million tons of coal. Peabody is the largest coal producer in the world.

Also at the mining conference, the Colorado Mining Association recognized Twentymile with an excellence award for protecting water quality.

The award recognizes Twentymile's water-management program, which maintains, monitors and tracks ground water levels, surface water flows and surface and ground water quality for 29 ground water wells and 17 surface water sites. The company also operates a water treatment and recycling system for water discharged into tributaries that feed the Yampa and Green rivers.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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