Murray Energy to Lay Off Around 1,800 Workers – by Timothy Puko and John W. Miller (Wall Street Journal – May 21, 2015)

Move is another blow to the coal mining industry in Appalachia

Coal miner Murray Energy Corp. is set to announce layoffs of around 1,800 workers at nine locations on Friday, according to a person familiar with the matter, dealing another blow to the coal-mining industry in Appalachia.

The planned layoffs, which represent about 21% of Murray’s workforce, will come largely at mines in West Virginia and Ohio, a region already reeling from the impact of abundant natural gas and a global coal glut.

Robert Murray, the 75-year-old founder and chief executive of the company, made the decision Wednesday after a 12-hour meeting with operations managers, according to the person familiar with the matter.

The company decided to make much bigger cuts than it had previously been considering because of growing concerns about the slumping market for thermal coal, the person said.

The company plans to send formal notice on Friday to workers at the Monongalia County Coal Co. in West Virginia, the mine that will see the largest layoffs. The mine had been idled earlier this spring, putting several hundred miners out of work.

Murray, the country’s third biggest coal producer, isn’t alone in feeling the pain. Alpha Natural Resources Inc., another major Appalachia producer, is planning further layoffs, according to a person familiar with the matter. Scott Depot, W. Va.-based Patriot Coal Corp. last week returned to bankruptcy court only 18 months after emerging from chapter 11 protection, because of “challenging market conditions.” Others, like Arch Coal Inc., have suffered debt downgrades.

St. Clairsville, Ohio-based Murray has been gobbling up mines in the region, taking on debt to do more than $4 billion of acquisitions despite the competition. The company has been aiming to be the lowest-cost coal producer in the country to survive a lengthy downturn in coal prices that has pushed several companies into bankruptcy or the brink of it.

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