Shoemaker Mine banks on future

BENWOOD After seven years and $206 million, Consol Energy Inc. has prepared Shoemaker Mine for the 21st century.

A new belt haulage system was installed, beginning in 2006, to replace the antiquated rail car system used for transporting coal out of the mine. According to information provided by public relations Director Joseph Cerenzia, planning for the project got under way in 2003, when the company set out to extend the life of the mine and preserve the 600 jobs there.

In addition to the new method of moving coal, the investment led to shaft rehabilitation, upgrades to the longwall mining syststem and improvements to the load-out facilities along the Ohio River and the preparation plant. As a result, the company predicts Shoemaker will produce 4.9 million tons of coal this year; previous estimates said the mine could produce as much as 6 million tons annually.

“With this new system in place, along with other capital improvements, Shoemaker Mine will be more competitive in the marketplace for the Pittsburgh 8 coal produced there,” said Nicholas J. DeIuliis, Consol Energy executive vice president and chief operating officer.

The new haulage system is comprised of 12 miles of conveyor belt underground and 2.5 miles of an overland conveyor belt system that moves coal to the prep plant

The rail car system hauled one last load of coal from the depths of th earth in northern Marshall County on Tuesday. The company said Shoemaker was the last large underground longwall mine in the nation to initiate full conveyor belt haulage. Company officials and employees were on hand to witness the final trip of rail cars.

Area residents watched the installation of the state-of-the-art belt system, the overland portion of which resembles a giant, blue snake winding through the hills along Boggs Run. In May, traffic on W.Va. 2 was halted several times while crews erected a portion of the covered belt that crosses over the highway.

Consol inked an agreement with American Electric Power in 2006 to supply coal for many of AEP’s coal-fired electric generation plants for 15 years, beginning in 2007. As part of the agreement, 82.5 million tons of coal are expected to come from Shoemaker and Consol’s other Marshall County complex, McElroy Mine, which has a prep plant south of Moundsville. The new belt system at Shoemaker will help the company achieve this production level.

Also in 2006, Shoemaker was idled to allow work on the haulage system to begin. Though more than 250 people were laid off, production resumed later that year to meet demand. It produced about 1 million tons of coal a year while the work was ongoing, according to Senior Vice President of External Affairs Thomas Hoffman.

“I think it’s reasonable to believe the demand for natural resources, particularly energy, will continue to be strong,” Hoffman has said. “Big, developing countries like India, China and Indonesia, with growing populations, are increasing their standard of living, and they will continue to want to do that.”

Hoffman believes there will be a long-term need to use coal for the production of electrical energy in the United States – and that’s a good thing for the Ohio Valley’s economy.

“We have huge reserves of energy in the Ohio Valley,” he said. “We’ve got experienced people to get (the coal) out of the ground, a transportation network to take it to market, huge power companies with great technical expertise – all the ingredients are there for these types of jobs to be long-term, career jobs.”

Consol has 12 coal mining complexes in six states and reports coal reserves of 4.5 billion tons. It is also a majority owner of CNX Gas Corp., a leading Appalachian natural gas producer.