The continuing downturn in the U.S. coal industry claimed several dozen more Campbell County casualties Friday when Buckskin mine laid off 38 people.
The move comes at a time when coal prices have been low for an extended period and on the heels of a production year that saw Buckskin mine nearly 11 percent less coal, from 15.3 million tons in 2014 to 13.6 million tons in 2015, according to the U.S. Mine Safety Health Administration.
“This was a very difficult decision and does not reflect the performance or quality of our employees at Buckskin,” the company says in a prepared statement.
The layoffs will bring the mine’s average annual full-time employees to about 196, down from the 234 reported in 2015, a reduction of 16 percent. However, like many U.S. coal mining operations, Buckskin has experienced a significant drop in production and employment since 2012.
That year, the MSHA reports Buckskin produced 18 million tons of coal and had an average annual full-time employment of 396. That’s a 24 percent production drop over a three-year period and a 50.5 percent drop in employment.
That production is the main reason for the layoffs, the company says in its statement.
“It was driven by the realities of the marketplace,” it reads. “We contract sell our coal and have seen a steady decline in volume over the last few years. We will continue to manage the mine to help us efficiently meet our current and future contracts and to ensure the long-term viability of Buckskin.”
Although Buckskin is far from being the Powder River Basin’s largest coal mining operation, Friday’s layoffs are another indication of how a prolonged energy slump is affecting Campbell County and Wyoming employment, said David Bullard, senior economist for the research and planning section of the state Department of Workforce Services.
The Buckskin move also comes at the same time Anadarko, one of the state’s largest oil producers, announced that it’s slashing onshore rigs by 80 percent and will lay off 95 percent of its contractors. How that move could potentially affect Wyoming operations was not made clear, but the Woodlands, Texas-based company reported a $6.5 billion loss in 2015, a year that saw the company lay off about 300 people.
Overall, Wyoming saw employment in oil, natural gas and coal drop by 16.5 percent in the third quarter of 2015, according to the Department of Workforce Services. More significantly, employment for businesses that support the energy industry dropped more than 30 percent.