On Dec. 15, UtahAmerican Energy Inc. announced that the company had temporarily reduced its workforce by 114 employees effective Dec. 14.
According to the company's press release, the layoff comes as a result of increasing levels of methane gas at UtahAmerican's Tower Mine.
"We regret the temporary reduction in employment," stated Bruce Hill, director and chief executive officer of Utah American. "But it is unavoidable as we accomplish remediation work to address the methane buildup just encountered. We have started drilling additional degasification holes vertically from the surface as well as horizontally from the coal seam."
"We are also boring a 16-foot air shaft and installing a 1,500 horsepower blowing fan on the shaft for additional ventilation and methane control. In addition, the entire power distribution system is being upgraded to accommodate the increased electrical demand associated with the ventilation changes. The work is projected to be finished by March 31, 2007 and we are hopeful full production can resume by April, 2007," continued Hill.
In interviews conducted in October with Bob Murray, the president and chief executive officer of Murray Energy Corporation indicated that UtahAmerican was reviewing the operation at Tower to assess the methane problem, but had no plans for halting coal production at the mine at that time. Murray Energy is UtahAmerican's parent company.
In an interview on Dec. 18. Murray reported that the 114 laid off miners included workers at the company's Tower, West Ridge and Crandall Canyon, (Genwal) mines.
"We would not have had to lay these people off if we could have gotten our permits from the Department of Oil, Gas and Mining for the Lila Canyon," pointed out Murray. "We have told them that we want to see permitting by the middle of January. If we don't get a response, we are going to seek litigation."
The company's press release went on to state that, "while any reduction in manpower is always unfortunate, we particularly regret the timing of this layoff being near the holidays. The layoff was caused by the sudden increase in methane levels and our deep concern for the safety of our employees takes priority over any other consideration."
That regret is felt by the laid off miners as well.
"I knew something was coming," said Jarred Jaramillo, who worked on the longwall at the West Ridge mine. "Why are we cleaning out our lockers and taking the scan cards out of our helmets if we are going to be back in a couple of months?"
UtahAmerican purchased the Tower mine last August as part of the company's acquisition of all the operations of Andalex Resources. The Tower division has been operating in the Book Cliffs coal reserve since 1980.
Over time, the methane emissions have grown into a problem for the mine.
Methane is a naturally occurring gas liberated from the coal seam during mining.
Company officials indicated the methane gas build up has become hazardous and must be remedied for the mine to return to full production.
Conventional room and pillar techniques with continuous miners were used at the Carbon County operation until 1994, when a longwall system was installed.
The room and pillar techniques continued until 2001, when the operation changed to continuous miners with mobile roof support technology.
The longwall mining system was reinstalled in 2004 and according to company officials it has never performed to the systems potential due to methane gas emissions.
Delynn Fielding, economic development director for Carbon County, addressed the impact of the layoff Monday.
While the situation is devastating to affected employees, Fielding indicated that a layoff of the size in question for a four-month period of time will not be devastating to the county's economy.
"Right now, the economy is very strong. And depending on the skill sets of the miners affected, they will make the decisions to stay or leave on an individual basis," pointed out Fielding.