Future for Longwall
Mining in U.S.
James F. Roberts, President & CEO, Foundation Coal Holding, Inc. was the luncheon speaker at 2005 Longwall Show in Pittsburgh, PA recently.
Coal is an integral part of the nation's energy needs both today and in the future, said Jim Roberts.
"The demand for energy will continue to skyrocket and the need to diversify the mix and reduce the dependence of foreign energy sources will grow. But the coal industry must expand production in order to meet the increased demand," Roberts said.
It would be a major step backwards to remove longwall methods as a means of harvesting the coal, he said. Longwall mining has good safety records, cutting-edge technology and is highly efficient.
Roberts also warned industry officials that other industries have not stepped away from technology and thrived.
Coal production at longwall equipped mines has dropped by nearly 10 percent from its peak in 1998. The total number of longwall installations fell from 69 in 1996 to 50 in 2005. The number of coal mines with longwall systems also declined in the same period.
The largest drop happened in the Illinois Basin as total longwall production dropped by nearly 60 percent. The average output for longwall increased from 2.82 MM tons to 3.62 MM tons.
The challenges longwall mining faces include limited flexibility, higher capital levels required, long lead time for development, customer commitment and uncertain regulations. But longwall mining has its strengths. It has a good safety record, good production volume and productivity and does well with reserve recovery.
"Longwall production is increasingly concentrated in larger pure-play public coal companies. That means public companies have the money to undertake significant investments necessary to maintain its longwalls and to build new installations.
Despite possible short-term bias for financial performance, public companies are in business for the long haul," Roberts said. cl
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