Workers at the Buckskin coal mine north of Gillette will have to take two weeks of furlough in the next couple of months in a move to reduce costs amid a prolonged weak thermal coal market.
The mine’s parent corporation, Omaha, Nebraska-based Kiewit Corp., announced Tuesday that Buckskin workers have been informed of the furloughs, which will be done a week at a time once this month and another next month, company spokeswoman Jessica Jensen said in a statement.
“Due to market conditions, the Buckskin Mining Co. has communicated to our employees a planned two-week furlough beginning in August,” according to the statement. “Each crew will be furloughed for one week in August and one week in September.
“No employees are losing their jobs or their benefits.”
In March near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wyoming, 60 Buckskin workers were laid off.
The furloughs will affect nearly 190 workers, according to employment numbers reported by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
So far in 2020, the mine is reporting a significant drop in production over the first half of last year, according to the MSHA.
The 2.3 million tons produced in the second quarter is nearly 48% less than the 4.4 million tons in the same quarter of 2019. For the first six months, Buckskin has produced 5.1 million tons of coal, down 39% from last year.
While the furloughs and lower production reflect an overall weak demand for Powder River Basin coal, it also could be compounded by the Blackjewel bankruptcy, which shut down the nearby Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines for about four months last year, said Rob Godby, a University of Wyoming energy economist. During that time, other PRB mines, like Buckskin, picked up some extra businesses from Blackjewel customers.
"We're back to the same problem all these mines have," Godby said. "There are fewer customers out there and the same number of mines. It's just more cutthroat competition in the basin."