By the numbers…
Rate of production for Yampa Valley’s three coal mines from Colorado’s record-setting year in 2004 through 2011:
(Year — production tons — employees)
Colowyo Coal Company, L.P.
2004 — 6,379,546 — 255
2005 — 5,869,561 — 257
2006 — 6,342,058 — 257
2007 — 5,621,924 — 263
2008 — 4,914,363 — 265
2009 — 3,490,159 — 286
2010 — 2,596,629 — 233
2011 — 2,362,724 — 221
Trapper Mining, Inc.
2004 — 1,837,102 — 139
2005 — 1,914,642 — 130
2006 — 2,080,372 — 139
2007 — 2,477,549 — 154
2008 — 2,320,452 — 150
2009 — 2,110,954 — 155
2010 — 2,188,167 — 163
2011 — 2,483,709 — 166
2004 — 8,557,745 — 351
2005 — 9,369,969 — 401
2006 — 8,549,845 — 469
2007 — 8,290,894 — 455
2008 — 8,004,176 — 476
2009 — 7,827,079 — 538
2010 — 7,725,525 — 459
2011 — 7,748,909 — 445
— Source: Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety
Production and employment among the state’s 10 active coal mines rose in 2011, according to an annual report released earlier this month by the Colorado Mining Association.
Coal production increased by 6 percent, or 26.8 million tons, and bumped Colorado’s ranking up to ninth among the nation’s coal-producing states.
Employment also increased by 13 percent to 2,504 statewide miners due mainly to the opening of a new metallurgical mine in southern Colorado, the report states.
Despite the positive news, state industry officials cite adverse market conditions and a hostile regulatory environment in their guarded outlook for the future.
“Certainly the near and longer-term market conditions are going to be affected by the warm winter, over supply of natural gas, and the threat that is occasioned by the EPA’s war on coal,” CMA President Stuart Sanderson said. “Those are all very serious developments.”
Banner years for Colorado coal producers were 2004 and 2005, Sanderson said. Even with the modest increase in 2011, coal production across the state is still 30-percent below 2005 figures.
Northwest Colorado, the state’s “principal coal mining region,” mirrors that statewide downward trend, Sanderson said.
“Coal is the lifeblood of Northwest Colorado,” he said. “Unfortunately there is a tendency to discourage production, which is ironic during a time when coal is the world’s fastest-growing fuel for electricity generation and is expected to be the dominant fuel by 2015, surpassing oil.
“Colorado’s laws and EPA policies are out of sync in that regard with what is occurring worldwide.”
Colowyo Coal Company, L.P. in Moffat County provides the best example of what has happened across the state in terms of coal production since 2004, Sanderson said.
According to the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety — formerly the Colorado Division of Minerals & Geology — 255 Colowyo employees mined more than 6.3 million tons of coal at its peak in 2004.
The company has been trending down each year since, reportedly mining 2.3 million tons of coal in 2011.
Although Colowyo representatives could not comment on why its production has dropped by more than two-thirds in seven years, the CMA report cited the company’s “inability to secure a long-term contract to facilitate a mine expansion” as a likely reason.
In neighboring Routt County, Twentymile Mine has also experienced declines in its rate of production since Colorado’s record-setting year in 2004.
But Twentymile’s drop in production is not nearly as steep as Colowyo’s.
In 2005, Twentymile’s production hit its height with more than 9.3 million tons of mined coal. In 2011, the company mined more than 7.7 million tons of coal.
Despite the declines in coal production in recent years, Twentymile Mine has been able to maintain steady employment numbers, a surprising trend throughout the industry.
During its peak production year in 2005, Twentymile employed 401 miners, according to the company’s 12-month employee average. In 2011, there were 445 employees.
Although Colowyo has experienced the most significant drop in production among Northwest Colorado coal mines, it too has maintained a fairly steady workforce population, Sanderson said.
Colowyo went from 255 employees during its peak production year in 2004 to 221 during its worst year of production in 2011.
“Nationally, the mining industry has been one of the few industries to add jobs (since the 2008 economic downturn),” Sanderson said. “Colorado coal mine employers deserve a great deal of credit for keeping employment levels steady, notwithstanding significant challenges moving forward.”
The one exception to the state’s declining coal production trend is Trapper Mining, Inc., in Craig.
Trapper has been steadily increasing both its coal production and employment numbers, utilizing 166 workers to mine more than 2.4 million tons of coal in 2011, up from 139 employees and 1.8 million tons of coal produced in 2004.
Trapper representatives were unavailable to comment on the company’s ability to increase jobs and production when so many others seem to be on the decline.
Sanderson believes Trapper’s success has to do with its 100-percent contract with neighboring Craig Station, a coal-fired power plant operated by Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association.
But increasingly hostile rules and regulations at the federal and state level could adversely affect even the seemingly booming “boutique” mines around the country, Sanderson said.
EPA regulations like the New Source Performance Standards and the Mercury Air Toxics Rule could cost the nation more than 1.4 million jobs, according to the CMA report.
Locally, Colorado House Bill 10-1365, known as the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act, which aims to convert three Front Range coal-fired power plants to natural gas, could have dire consequences on the state’s coal mining industry if it survives a lawsuit filed by the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, Sanderson said.
Though legislation could jeopardize jobs, Sanderson said there is a tendency among legislators and the general public to forget what rules would potentially do to the cost of energy.
“(Coal) is by far the most reliable and affordable source of electricity generation and does not share natural gas’s history of wild price fluctuation,” Sanderson said. “Consumers pay, on average, 21 percent of their annual income on energy. Among the poor, it’s much, much higher.
“We need low-cost energy, it’s essential for bringing people out of poverty and improving the standard of living.”
Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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