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November 14, 2005

Working in a coal mine...again

Coal mining resumes on small scale in Kansas; officials hope industry can be resurrected

JOPLIN, Mo. — Without fanfare, an old business in Southeast Kansas has resurfaced.

Phoenix Mining Co. began mining coal last year from its surface mine at Garland, in Bourbon County between Arcadia and Fort Scott. It removes about 20,000 tons of coal each month, selling it to Empire District Electric Co.

“I think there’s a great potential for more coal mining,” said Clay Hartley, an official with Phoenix Mining, which employs 25 people at its Kansas site. “Westar is looking at the reserves in Kansas. That could be 800,000 tons of coal a year.”

Westar Energy Inc., based in Topeka, has plans to build an 800-megawatt, coal-fired plant by 2013. Officials in Crawford and Bourbon counties are lobbying the utility to build the plant in their counties. Westar has hired a company to conduct a site-selection study.

State Sen. Jim Barone, D-Frontenac, is hoping that a coal-powered electric generating plant can fire up demand.

“A power plant would jump-start it,” Barone said. “Until we get some reason to get it going and jump-start it, it is very difficult to get it revived.”

Record prices

Southeast Kansas isn’t the only coal-mining region wondering about a revival. Closed coal mines are being reopened and new ones are opening around the country, said Phil Smith, communications director for the United Mine Workers of America. He said shaft and surface mines in West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are in full operation.

He said the high price of coal is making it worthwhile for companies to dig it out of the ground again.

Last month, the average spot price for Powder River Basin coal from Wyoming declined from its all-time high of $16.89 to $16.22 per short ton. Last year at this time, coal from the same region was selling for around $6 to $7 per ton, according to the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy.

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