Both men worked down in the mines, in helmet and headlamp, digging out the coal that would one day make them piles of money. As early as Tuesday, the mining empires the two men built from scratch could start to crumble.
Billionaire Christopher Cline, 57, hailed as the savior of the Illinois coal industry, is the founder of Foresight Energy LP, which has until March 15 to pay $23.6 million of overdue bond interest.
Industry champion Robert E. Murray, 76, would suffer with him. The company he created, Murray Energy Corp., paid $1.4 billion in April for a 50 percent stake in Foresight. A default would wipe out that investment.
So far the two titans have survived the U.S. coal industry’s worst downturn in decades, a result of tough environmental policies, a flood of cheap natural gas and slowing global demand. In the last two years, at least six U.S. coal-mining companies have filed for bankruptcy, restructuring a total of $23 billion.
With a boost from fracking, the U.S. produced more natural gas in 2015 than it ever has, while U.S. coal production fell last year to its lowest level in decades and is projected to fall even more this year, according to the Energy Information Administration.
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