CASPER (WNE) — The second largest thermal coal producer in the U.S. is moving about 100 miners from its Coal Creek mine in northern Wyoming to its higher-production Black Thunder mine outside Wright.
The move will cut the majority of the 154-miner workforce at Coal Creek.
Since a downturn in the nation’s coal industry that hit bottom in 2015 and 2016, producers in the Powder River Basin have had to be nimble, adjusting to fewer customers to buy their coal, as well as fewer contracts promising long-term demand. An expanding national fleet of natural gas plants has eroded coal’s dominance as the source for U.S. electricity in recent years.
Arch Coal did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the shift in their labor force following a short interview in mid-October.
Travis Deti of the Wyoming Mining Association declined to comment on Arch, but said that Wyoming’s coal producers are continually responding to changes in the market.
“The environment has changed a little bit and we are just adapting,” he said.
Black Thunder is one of the largest open surface coal mines in the country, lying just east of the town of Wright. It employed 1,173 miners as of September.
Arch Coal took the unusual step of cutting production expectations at Black Thunder early this year by about 10 million tons.
Multiple coal firms in the basin have noted in calls with investors over the past year that unloading lower-heat coal has been a challenge in coal’s new normal. Companies with multiple mines, like Cloud Peak Energy, Peabody Energy and Arch, have also shifted to a basin-wide focus of their coal assets with the ability to move production and employees according to demand.