Arch's Leer Mining Complex Ramping Up Outside Grafton
The State Journal
22 May 2013
By Pam Kasey
GRAFTON, WV - It takes years to ramp up a major coal mining
Granted, Arch Coal's Leer Mining Complex outside Grafton underwent
a change of ownership after it was permitted to International Coal
Group in 2008. That had to slow things down.
Still, it's a huge job.
The long bridge to the complex from U.S. Route 50 over Three Fork
Creek of the Tygart Valley River was built in 2008, according to
Scott Boylen, Leer president and general manager. The road out to
the mine wasn't built until 2010.
Arch acquired the mine in 2011 and made the first cut of coal in
November 2011. Back then, the only access was a 325-foot shaft and
a crane with a bucket that hauled men and supplies down and coal
up — just three tons at a time.
A proper elevator didn't go in until February 2012, Boylen said.
Employment then was around 30.
A major constraint was haul-out capacity. A temporary vertical
belt put in place in June 2012, after the 1,400-foot slope from
the bottom of the mine up and out through the side of the hill to
the preparation plant was constructed, took that from three tons
per bucket to 800 tons per hour. The permanent belts that started
up in November 2012 took it to the design capacity of 7,600 tons
Employment at the site is 362 now, with 75 miners underground at
any one time and three shifts a day, seven days a week.
Yet, a year and a half after the first coal came out of the
ground, continuous miners are still developing the first panel for
the faster longwall operation to come and the prep plant is
operating at about one-quarter capacity, Boylen said.
And none of the mine's coal is yet under contract.
About 90 percent of the Leer mine's production is expected to be
metallurgical coal for making steel and 10 percent steam coal for
making electricity. The coal is being tested now by steel
manufacturers in Europe and Korea and by power producers in the
United States and, he said, is meeting and exceeding expectations.
He expects full longwall production of 3.2 million to 3.5 million
tons per year to begin in the fourth quarter.
Boylen describes the mine as "compact," and it's easy to see what
he means. Seen one high vantage point across a dip, raw coal comes
from the left of the view out of the opposite hill and enters the
preparation plant at center. Clean coal goes out to the right and
may be loaded onto rail cars from there. The elevator house is
visible up and to the right on the hill that's being mined, and
the coarse refuse and fines are transported up to a slurry cell
above and beyond that.
The mine lies on a CSX line that runs between Grafton and
Cumberland, Md. That line will carry most of the coal east to the
Port of Baltimore. Since loading its first train in October 2012,
the mine has loaded 22 trains in total so far, or about one every
Modern Practice and Technology
As a new mine, Leer makes use of modern mining practices.
"Arch is highly capitalized," said Russ Lorince, vice president of
external affairs. "Their business model is, they're not going to
do it on the cheap."
The preparation plant where coal is washed, for example, is state
of the art, he said.
The system incorporates alkaline lime sand into the coarse and
fine refuse at the prep plant to neutralize the acidic slurry
that's produced by the sulfurous Lower Kittanning seam. Some
plants do this at the back end, Boylen said, but the Leer mine
creates a more homogeneous and effective mix by doing it up front.
The process is also automated, metering in the right amount of
The coal loadout is another example. It can load a train of up to
130 railcars at the rate of 4,000 tons per hour, and is equipped
with a tag reader that identifies rail cars from their signature
cards and dispenses coal to each car's maximum capacity.
Employees at the Leer mine have come largely from other Arch
"We've relocated internally existing Arch employees from some of
the mines that, given the condition of the market, we've idled,"
Boylen said, referring to the Vindex mining complex in the
Maryland panhandle and mines run by Arch subsidiary Wolf Run
Some employees also have come from subsidiary Patriot Mining Co.'s
surface mine outside Morgantown that was mined out.
"So we've been, I think, astute to recognizing the value of our
employees," he said.
About two-thirds of the 362 current employees were shifted
internally, Boylen estimated.
As coal markets rebound, employees could be recalled to the idled
Vindex and Wolf Run mines, Lorince pointed out, and Leer would
hire new workers.
More of the mine's employees live in adjacent Preston County than
in any other county, Boylen said, with others from Barbour,
Taylor, Monongalia, Marion and beyond — more than 30 counties in
Boylen and Lorince spoke of the emphasis Arch places on safety.
In 2006, the company adopted the behavior-based safety system,
which enlists employees in identifying risky behaviors.
"If you can get people working with a program versus a top-down
approach, it's very powerful," Boylen said.
Arch touts its safety record. In 2012, the lost-time incident rate
of 0.72 was the company's best safety record ever, according to
the company's website, and three times lower than the industry
average of 2.35 lost-time injuries per 200,000 hours worked.
"2012 marked the seventh consecutive year Arch ranked first among
our major diversified coal industry peers in safety," the website
Arch's incident level spiked when the company bought ICG, Lorince
said, but came back down when some legacy operating conditions
Leer mine employees suffered two incidents requiring stitches in
2012, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and
one incident so far this year, in which an employee was knocked
into a roof bolter; no injury was reported.
Arch Coal and the Leer Mining Complex are engaging with the
community in several ways.
Boylen himself, who grew up in Shinnston, lives in Taylor County
and has two daughters at Grafton High School.
Recognizing that Grafton is not historically a mining community,
Boylen said, the company has offered education sessions to explain
the mining process.
Feeling that the closed atmosphere at many coal mines hurts the
operations in their communities, he strives for a more open
atmosphere: inviting groups of community leaders in for tours and
holding monthly Citizens' Advisory Panel meetings to update the
community on activities at the mine and hear questions and
"If you're doing things as prescribed, you have nothing to hide,"
Charitable contributions include a 25-year renewable contract the
company has entered with the Taylor County Soccer Association for
a piece of land that will hold a soccer complex and a $10,000
donation to the Friends of McKinney Field toward upgrades to the
football and soccer field at Grafton High School.
"The company has expressed interest in continuing outreach in the
Grafton community," said City Manager Kevin Stead. "They are good
partners in Grafton and Taylor County. We're very pleased."