Lilly Issues Longwall Challenges
“I predict that longwall mining continues to play an important role in meeting the needs of our
customers for low priced high quality reliable supplies of coal,” said Peter B. Lilly, COO-Coal, CONSOL Energy Inc. addressing the SME Pittsburgh Section Luncheon held in conjunction with Longwall USA International Exhibition and Conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“Today our state-of-the-art longwall mines are characterized by:
• Larger, faster, more powerful equipment;
• Automated, programmable controls;
• Longer and wider panels;
• Panel development design optimized for roof support and advance rates;
• Improved ventilation patterns;
• Improved continuous haulage and belt advance systems;
•Better onboard diagnostics.
“This is why longwall mining is the safest, most productive, and most cost effective underground coal mining method,” said Lilly.
Lilly pointed out that one cannot rest on past achievement as the new marketing paradigm created by the changes in the regulation of electric utilities will require continuous improvement and mentioned four things that should be done.
“First we must find ways to mine and transport each ton at less cost. There can be no doubt that our customers will continue to put pressure on price. We require machines that can reduce the unit cost of mining coal. That means addressing the issues like equipment reliability, availability and product service support. We need even better onboard diagnostics to allow us to detect when machines might fail catastrophically so we can take steps to prevent that. We need to work on metallurgy and materials technology to produce machines that can mine wider, longer panels before being pulled for rebuild. We should enlist the help of academic institutions to assist our manufacturing partners in meeting these challenges.
“Second, we need to develop a generation of longwall systems that can efficiently mine in seams that are less than four feet high. The coal industry of the future will have the capital to buy such systems and absolutely will need this equipment to efficiently mine new seams or to extend the economic reserves of existing longwall mineable seams. So to my friends in the equipment business, I say – you build ‘em, we’ll buy ‘em.
“Third, I believe we need to continue the progress that we have made in system automation. Automation allows us to move our people away from moving machinery and away from potential exposure to dust and other hazards. Through further automation we can improve safety, reduce costs incurred from accidents and reduce total manpower. We can also improve coal quality at the face and increase machine productivity by cutting less rock.
“Finally,” said Lilly, “we must find ways to improve the rate and cost of panel development. That means every step of this complicated process must be made more efficient. We need to continue the work that CONSOL and others have done to improve continuous haulage. We need better means to handle supplies and materials. We need to develop the means to more rapidly and safely install both primary and secondary roof support. And we need better geologic information so we can select the proper support for a given situation.”
Lilly discussed the vitality and energy of the coal industry. He reminded his audience that mining coal across the Monongahela River on Mt. Washington began in the early 1700’s. Pittsburgh was the only colonial settlement to heat and cook with coal rather than wood. The fuel was so abundant it was said that every house in Pittsburgh had two chimneys – one for cooking and one for heating.
300 years later coal is still produced from the Pittsburgh seam, of course a little way from Mt. Washington and with tons per man day that have gone up quite a bit, but the Pittsburgh seam, said Lilly, is just as vital today to Pennsylvania and to Americans than it was 300 years ago.
According to Lilly, the foundation of the American economy is built on networks of resources and services that we all take for granted. For example, electricity pervades every aspect of our lives with new appliances, devices, and gadgets constantly added. “It is a credit to the power companies, to the fuel suppliers and to the equipment manufacturers that this very valuable product is provided so invisibly. To most Americans, Lilly said that the coal industry also is invisible. “Despite coal’s important role in generating electricity, when the Quecreek miners were trapped and we sat fixed to our TV’s to watch the rescue efforts, how many Americans were surprised to discover that we still use coal? I guarantee you that it was millions.”
Lilly asked a hypothetical question and supposed for a moment that there was no coal. How would we replace coal as a fuel? He summarized the position.
• Coal generates more than 50% of the electricity in the United States. That’s 300 gigawatts of generating capacity.
• To replace coal we would need almost 300 million solar setups. In places like Pittsburgh the sun only shines 60 or so days a year and the challenge becomes more complicated.
• It would take about 860,000 of the largest windmills in the world to generate the amount of electricity produced from coal. The windmills would occupy an area the size of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland combined.
• DOE says that if all the potential wind resources in the 36 states east of the Mississippi were used it would generate less than 10% of the electricity produced from coal.
• To replace coal with nuclear power would require 300 1,000 megawatt plants and it could take as long as 50 years.
• We would need to build about 1,000 combined cycle gas plants to replace existing coal-fired capacity, requiring the U.S. to increase its annual supplies of natural gas by 70%.
“In short, we shouldn’t ignore the importance of solar, wind, nuclear, or gas as potential sources of electricity,” said Lilly. “But neither should we dismiss the value of the existing fleet of coal mines and coal fired power plants to us. They are valuable national assets that ensure the United States economy has access to low cost electricity.”
Lilly referred to his concern about the financial condition of the power generation industry and said that we should weigh very carefully any regulatory or legal action that further impairs the essential operation of these valuable assets.
Coal assets are vital as a key source of energy but they are vital in another way as well, he said. They are vital to the communities where the extraction takes place and yet are commonly under appreciated by those who live and work closest to these assets. Lilly referred to the benefits of mining in terms of the jobs provided directly by the mining companies but said that the real benefit from coal comes from the many jobs created in support of a coal mine, which consumes equipment, supplies, and services. He referred to the study of CONSOL Energy’s purchasing practices in support of their mines in Pennsylvania, which found:
• They did business with nearly 600 companies in southwestern Pennsylvania.
• They purchased more than 300 million in supplies and services from these companies.
• In the two-year period, 2000 and 2001, CONSOL’s total contribution to the economy of southwestern Pennsylvania, that is payroll, taxes, and business with suppliers totaled $1.1 billion.
• The economic contribution is made all the more important as mining often occurs in rural areas where other types of economic activity are limited.
“We need to tap the supply chain, not only for the products and services they provide but also to secure their political help in support of mining,” said Lilly. “Efforts to tap supply chain support are well underway in PA and WV and these suppliers are anxious to help and have been waiting only to be asked,” he said.
“We have the obligation to operate mines that exist in harmony with the communities that serve as our hosts. We must protect the land, the air, and the water to the fullest extent of our ability. Although we work in a community, we must never forget that our neighbors live there,” said Lilly. cl
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