Oxbow Mining announced that it has abandoned hopes of recovering its longwall mining equipment at its Elk Creek Mine in Somerset, CO and will seal part of the mine and layoff 150 workers.
The machine, worth millions of dollars, is located in part of the mine where concerns of spontaneous combustion have made it too dangerous to retrieve, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported.
“We have made a decision that it’s not safe to recover the longwall so it’s going to be sealed in place,” said Mike Ludlow, executive vice president at the mine.
The spontaneous combustion problem was first detected through high carbon monoxide levels suggesting underground heating in the mine. The company withdrew everyone from the mine Jan. 9 and furloughed some people that month, but brought back workers later to do development work for mining in other areas where it was deemed safe to work.
Full-scale mining requires a longwall operation, however. Now that Oxbow has given up on recovering its equipment, it will be looking to buy another used or new longwall.
Ludlow said a federal law requiring advance notification of layoffs doesn't apply because of the emergency nature of the move. Employees were provided severance payments, he said.
Spontaneous combustion concerns began with the detection of high carbon monoxide levels, suggesting there was underground heating in the mine.
Mine officials said the trapped machine can shear away a mine wall to produce as much as 1,500 t/h (1,700 stph) of coal. It weighs 62 t (68 st) and is 244 m (800 ft) long.
Oxbow's production capacity has been about 4.5 Mt/a (5 million stpy), but it has been sharply curtailed this year because the machine accounts for about 80 percent of production.
Oxbow has operated the mine since 2001 along the border of Delta and Gunnison counties in Colorado.
Delta County administrator Robbie LeValley said the mines are an important part of the area's employment base.
“This represents a significant reduction that will be felt across Delta and Gunnison counties,” she said.
The company plans to get back to limited production for overseas shipment.