A notice filed in federal bankruptcy court in West Virginia announced that an auction for the assets of bankrupt coal operator Blackjewel LLC was scheduled for Aug. 1 at the Cincinnati law office of attorneys representing Blackjewel.
A week earlier, Contura Energy offered $20.6 million as the stalking horse bidder for two mines in Wyoming and one in West Virginia owned by Blackjewel (ME, July 25). The purchase could put hundreds back to work at the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines in Wyoming and Pax Surface Mine in Scarbro, West Virginia. They've been closed since Blackjewel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection July 1.
The Associated Press reported that according to the bidding process, other qualifying bids made by the July 31 deadline triggered the auction. The notice didn't disclose the other bids.
Blackjewel attorney Stephen Lerner had said any party could bid on any combination of Blackjewel's assets.
Blackjewel also operates mines in Kentucky and Virginia, and the fate of those depends on the outcome of the bidding process.
Miners in Cumberland, KY who said they hadn't been paid by Blackjewel had blocked the transport of coal along train tracks in the days leading up the auction.
According to Contura's offer, it would provide an $8.1 million deposit toward the purchase to be applied to cash-strapped Blackjewel's expenses. Contura would acquire the assets without assuming Blackwater's liens.
Under the proposal, Blackjewel's 401(k) employee retirement plan would be terminated, allowing workers whose paychecks have bounced to have immediate access to their contributions.
Blackjewel holds the license to mine coal in Wyoming while Contura, a company created out of the 2015 bankruptcy of Alpha Natural Resources, holds the state mine permits. Blackjewel recently missed a $1 million tax payment owed to Campbell County, Wyoming — one of Blackjewel's largest creditors.
Contura sold the Wyoming mines to Blackjewel in 2017. They were among the top-producing coal mines in the U.S.
The Associated Press reported that Blackjewel follows other major U.S. coal producers that have filed for bankruptcy protection in recent years, including Englewood, Colorado-based Westmoreland Coal Co. in October and Gillette, Wyoming-based Cloud Peak Energy in May.
St. Louis-based Peabody Energy Corp. emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2017 and both St. Louis-based Arch Coal and Bristol, Virginia-based Alpha emerged in 2016.
The auction of another bankrupt coal company, Gillette, Wyoming-based Cloud Peak Energy Corp., will be held Aug. 8. The company is selling its assets to cover nearly $400 million in outstanding debt.
Cloud Peak operates the Antelope and Cordero Rojo coal mines in Wyoming and the Spring Creek mine in southern Montana.