Buckskin mine

A view of Buckskin mine from Collins Road about 12 miles north of Gillette. The mine, operated by Buckskin Mining Co. (a subsidiary of Kiewit Corp.), has laid off 60 workers.

A week after being informed to expect layoffs, 60 coal workers at the Buckskin mine north of Gillette were laid off Wednesday.

The move is a response to lower production at the mine and a weak domestic market for powder River Basin coal, according to Nebraska-based Kiewit Corp., which owns the mine.

Workers are expected to receive pay through April 2.

Nationwide demand for PRB coal has plummeted in the last year as utilities transition toward renewable energy sources.

The workforce reduction “is not driven by the performance (of employees), but rather the realities of the market,” said Tom Janssen, a spokesman for Kiewit Corp., in a statement to the Gillette News Record.

The mine produced 4.3 million tons of coal in the final quarter of 2019, according to the U.S. Mining Safety and Health Administration. A first-quarter report reflecting numbers so far in 2020 has not yet been released.

“I was shocked ... they had to cut that many positions,” said JD Dietsche, a Buckskin coal miner who also worked at the neighboring Eagle Butte mine until it shut down and changed ownership last year. “It doesn’t sound like a lot of people, but those crews are like 25 or 26 people, so (this) was a big hit.”

The company will do what it can to assist affected workers in finding other jobs, Kiewit Corporation spokeswoman Jessica Jensen said last week.

The move won’t be the first recent workforce reduction at the mine. According to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, Buckskin had an overall employment of 222 people at the end of 2019, 49 fewer than the 271 workers reported at the end of the third quarter last year.

The mine also cut back by 83 workers in two rounds of layoffs in the first half of 2016 when the coal market crashed and caused more than 600 coal layoffs around the PRB.

The mine produced 17.6 million tons of coal in 2019, a 30% increase over the 13.5 million tons in 2018.

Janssen the mine is not closing and will continue to produce coal.

“Buckskin continues to operate and we remain focused on safely managing the mine to meet our commitments to our clients and to ensure the mine’s long-term viability,” he said.

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