Coal Mine Impacts from COVID-19

From Global Energy Monitor
This article is part of Global Energy Monitor's coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This page lists coal mine projects whose workplace operations and financial circumstances have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic that was declared by the World Health Organization in March 2020.

Coal mine COVID-19 cases

On March 30, Consol Energy's Bailey Mine in Pennsylvania shut down after two workers tested positive for Covid-19. The shutdown was scheduled to last two weeks.[1] On April 13, the mine reopened.[2] The same day, five Virginia coal mines announced that they would be shutting down operations to stop the spread of coronavirus.[3] However, they plan to continue to fulfill weekly orders using the stockpiles they already have available.[4] At Arch Coal Inc.'s West Elk mine in Colorado, four employees out of 368 tested positive for COVID 19 on April 21.[5] In Alabama, two coal mines have tested positive for COVID-19.[6]

On May 19, 2020, NPR News reported on the difficulty of coal miners in Kentucky to socially distance on the job in the midst of the pandemic. Journalist Syndey Boles confirmed that the Mine Safety and Health Administration is encouraging mine operators to take precautions, but that these are voluntary, and the agency has issued no specific policies.[6] NPR reported the Mine Safety and Health Administration is not collecting comprehensive data on COVID-19 cases in the mines,[6] although S&P Global reported in April that Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health David Zatezalo is "keeping a spreadsheet of those who notify us."[7]

On May 19, an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the Darkov coal mine, near the town of Karvina, was responsible for the Czech Republic's biggest daily rise in cases in four weeks.[8] 113 coal miners tested positive.[9] The number was more than 150, when including miners and their families. [10] The mine continues to operate.[11]

Poland's top coal mining company, state-run Polska Grupa Górnicza (PGG), suspended operations at its Murcki-Staszic and Jankowice mines in late April 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19 among its workers. PGG's Sośnica mine was also shuttered on May 6 after 43 miners tested positive for the virus.[12] The Silesia mining region recorded the highest number of infections in Poland with around 4,000 cases – 1,450 of them coal miners--of the national total of 16,900 cases (as of May 12, 2020).[13] Due to the rapid growth of cases in the Silesia mining region, Poland announced on May 7, that they would begin to test 1,000 miners a day in drive-through sites.[14]

On the Philippine island of Semirara, coal mining continued despite a strict quarantine, prompting calls for investigations by local politicians, activists, and clergy. On April 7, the first case of COVID on Antique was reported at the hospital of mine operator SMPC, and cases spread during the time mining activities were supposed to be suspended during an enhanced community quarantine.[15]

On April 2, Singareni Collieries Company Limited laid off its underground miners in the state of Telangana, India, to protect miners against the spread of COVID-19. According to Miriyala Raji Reddy, a union leader, about 2,000 miners were engaged in underground operations.[16] On April 3, South Eastern Coalfields, Coal India‘s largest producing subsidiary, ordered 83 employees into quarantine after many of them attended a religious gathering where they were exposed to a carrier of the virus.[17]

Coal mine impacts by country

Australia

All mining exploration activities in the Northern Territory have been suspended in Australia in an attempt to avoid spreading coronavirus to native populations, who own 49% of the land. [18] [19] In addition, all exploration permits to Aboriginal land trusts have been suspended until at least April 30.[18]

Whitehaven Coal announced in April 2020 that decisions on three major coal mine expansion projects will be deferred beyond 2020 due to “volatile financial market conditions” in the pandemic. Since 2014 the company has had the approval to build the A$700 million Vickery coal mine expansion project in New South Wales. The company’s proposed A$1 billion Winchester South metallurgical coal project in Queensland, which is currently the subject of initial design work and draft environmental assessment, may also be affected.[20]

Peabody Energy announced in May 2020 that it will suspend production at its underground Wambo Mine in New South Wales, Australia in order to align production with weaker demand and offset the effect of lower coal prices brought about by COVID-19. The 2.5 million tons per year Wambo underground thermal and semi-soft coking coal mine will close for 59 days from June 19. Production at AMCI Group's 3.5 million tons per year Carborough Downs mine in Queensland's Bowen Basin is also reported to be being cut.[21]

The Australian Financial Review reported in May 2020 that, due to the sharp fall in coal prices since the outbreak of COVID-19 in February, more than 30% of Australian thermal coal has become unprofitable at current prices. As a result, according to an analyst at JPMorgan Chase, "Significant mine closures are required to balance the market, but at this stage there is limited evidence of this from key producing nations."[22]

Canada

A number of Canadian provinces declared mining a "nonessential" business and ordered operations to close, but British Columbia and Ontario kept their mines running in the pandemic.[23]

On April 13, 2020, Teck Resources Ltd., which operates coal mines in the east Kootenay region of British Columbia faced criticisms from employees that it failed to provide protective equipment or take precautionary measures and thereby put miners at risk of contracting COVID-19.[23]

China

On February 3 it was reported that the coal mines in Shanxi's Linfen and Yulin cities delayed the resumption of operations until after the Lunar New Year break and ordered workers to stay home.[24]

Chinese coal miners produced record domestic output in the first quarter of 2020, in response to Beijing's call to protect energy supplies in the COVID pandemic. But profits fell because of imports and the closure of industrial plants. China intends to tighten coal import rules in the second half of 2020 to protect domestic coal producers.[25]

Colombia

With a 19-day quarantine in place starting March 24, 2020, coking coal and met coke exporters said there was a decreased pool of available workers at mines and ports, even though coal operations were exempted from the quarantine.[26]

Glencore temporarily stopped operations at the Prodeco coal mine and moved the mine to care & maintenance.[27] In a press release, Glencore wrote that, in addition to Covid-19, "growing community tensions and restrictions on logistics have made it very difficult to ensure the continued and safe operation of Prodeco (coal) and the security of its host communities." [28] The operations resumed soon thereafter and Glencore donated $25 million to "stop the virus."[29]

Drummond Ltd, an Alabama-based company, has temporarily reduced its coal mine operations near the town of La Jagua de Ibirico.[29]

Czech Republic

On May 19, 2020, an outbreak of cases at the Darkov coal mine, near the town of Karviná, was responsible for the biggest daily rise in cases in four weeks. 82 coal miners tested positive.[30] The mine continues to operate.[31]

On July 2, 2020, the Czech state-owned mining group OKD announced that it was closing all of its operations at four mines in the north-eastern Karviná region for six weeks owing to a continued incidence of COVID-19 infection stemming from its facilities. The coronavirus infection rate has largely been brought under control in the Czech Republic since May, but Karviná remains the one isolated area where the incidence of infection has continued well above the national average. Blanket testing of 3,403 employees at two of OKD's mines in June showed 704 positive cases for the virus.[32]

Italy

In May 2020, Italy's biggest commercial bank, Intesa San Paolo, announced a policy restricting its finance for coal mining and plants. After Generali and Unicredit, it's the third Italian financial institutions to adopt such a coal policy.

India

On March 25, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown, but the supply of thermal coal was declared an essential service. The Indian government worried about quarantine measures for incoming coal loading ships and relied on stockpiles at ports and terminals.[33]

On April 2, Singareni Collieries Company Limited laid off its underground miners in the state of Telangana, India, to protect miners against the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Miriyala Raji Reddy, a union leader, about 2,000 miners were engaged in underground operations.[34]

On April 3, South Eastern Coalfields, Coal India‘s largest producing subsidiary, ordered 83 employees into quarantine after many of them attended a religious gathering where they were exposed to a carrier of the virus.[35]

On April 26, local media reported that Coal India has tried to motivate coal miners, especially in their Kamptee coal mine to "serve the nation" in the midst of COVID-19, "the way a soldier fearlessly keeps his life at stake to guard his country against the enemies." The company has presented workers with flowers and applause after shifts.[36]

25 coal miners were stranded in the town of 3 Kilo when mine operations closed on March 24. They had no money and food and so they walked 134 kilometers to Nagaon. They arrived on April 30. Afterward, 3 of the coal miners were quarantined at a district hospital until May 16.[37]

In May, the local coal towns and mine owners in the East Jaintia Hills protested to stop the commercial transportation and import of coal from Assam, which they say threatens them with exposure to the virus. As Justine Dkhar, former MLA representing the Khliehriat constituency put it, “Along with the truck and coal from Assam, the driver and handyman will also come. Can the government assure us that they are totally free of the coronavirus?”[37]

On May 7, reports found that India had moved to relax the nation’s environmental assessment rules on major industrial projects, even as the COVID-19 pandemic made public oversight and review difficult. During the lockdown, the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, meeting via teleconference, approved a new coal mine in an elephant reserve.[38]

Indonesia

The uptick in the number of coronavirus cases in Indonesia in early March provoked concerns from various importers about ships coming from Kalimantan. Some ports in southern China imposed import restrictions on seaborne coal.[39]

Mozambique

Mozambican coal mining operations were not affected by President Filipe Nyusi's 30-day national state of emergency that started on April 1 in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Mining was considered an exception under "matters of the state, humanitarian or health support and cargo transport."[40]

Philippines

On the Philippine island of Semirara, coal mining continued despite a strict quarantine, prompting calls for investigations by local politicians, activists, and clergy. On April 7, the first case of COVID on Antique was reported at the hospital of mine operator SMPC, and cases spread during the time mining activities were supposed to be suspended during an enhanced community quarantine.[41]

Poland

Poland's top coal mining company, state-run Polska Grupa Górnicza (PGG), suspended operations at its Murcki-Staszic and Jankowice mines in late April 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19 among its workers. PGG's Sośnica mine was also shuttered on May 6 after 43 miners tested positive for the virus.[42]

The Silesia mining region recorded the highest number of infections in Poland with around 4,000 cases – 1,450 of them coal miners--of the national total of 16,900 cases (as of May 12, 2020).[43]

Due to the rapid growth of cases in the Silesia mining region, Poland announced on May 7, that they would begin to test 1,000 miners a day in drive-through sites.[44]

On April 27, Polish coal mining group PGG extended the coronavirus-related shutdown at two of its mines to May 10.[45]

On May 11, coking coal producer JSW said it will test workers at its Pniowek mine and only allow miners that test negative for COVID-19 back to work.[45]

A Reuters exclusive on June 2 revealed that the Polish government is drawing up plans to close at least three mines in the coming months owing to extreme budgetary pressure being felt as a result of COVID-19. According to an anonymous government source: "The crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic will cost huge amounts of money. From the point of view of public finances, we cannot afford further financing of coal mining." The closures being considered are thought to be at least two mines owned by PGG and one or more mines owned by state-run utility Tauron. Thousands of jobs will be lost if these closures take place.[46]

Russia

As of early March, coal shipments from the Kuznetsk Basin in southwestern Siberia, one of the largest coal mining areas in Russia, had not been interrupted, though impacts may be delayed based on buyers abroad.[47]

The Russian Federation's Ministry of Energy projected in May 2020 that Russian coal exports may fall by 10-22% in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and collapsing energy demand. In addition, domestic coal demand may fall by by 20-33 megatons, or by 4-12%.[48]

South Africa

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a 21-day lockdown to go into effect March 26, 2020. While essential businesses may remain open, Ramaphosa announced that “Companies whose operations require continuous processes such as furnaces, underground mine operations will be required to make arrangements for care and maintenance to avoid damage to their continuous operations."[49] As such, many mines are preparing to be 'on pause' for three weeks, or more if the lockdown is extended. An article in Bloomberg predicted that "all but a few coal operations needed to fuel the country’s power stations are expected to be included" in the nationwide lockdown.[50]

Coal mines that will be on care and maintenance throughout the lockdown include the Uitkomst Colliery, an underground coal mine owned by MC Mining Ltd. But the company noted that once the lockdown is completed, they will be able to get production up and running again relatively quickly.[51] In the press release, the company added: "However, given the continued uncertainty around the outlook for control of the coronavirus in South Africa, 2020 production guidance is suspended until the company is in a better position to quantify the full impact of the lockdown."[52] In addition to Uitkomst Colliery, the Makhado, Vele and Greater Soutpansberg coal mining projects will also be scaled back during the three-week national shutdown. Neither Makhado nor Greater Soutpansberg are completed and fully functioning yet.[53] [54]

Menar, a private investment company focused on mineral resources and energy, also placed all of its mines on care and maintenance.[55] Its subsidiaries are included in this. These include Canyon Coal, a coal exploration and mining company, Zululand Anthracite Colliery, an anthracite mining and production company, and Kangra, a mining company.

Buffalo Coal, a South Africa-based coal producer, announced March 24, 2020 that it had begun developing care and maintenance protocols that complied with Ramaphosa's directive. [56]

In late March 2020, the Richards Bay Coal Terminal, one of the world's largest coal terminals and the largest in Africa, halted operations due to South Africa's 21 day nationwide lockdown in response to the coronavirus.[57]

In April, government authorities relaxed regulations to allow deep level mines to operate at 50% capacity. Following a court ruling in May, mine operators needed to implement "a code of practice" to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including " protective equipment, screen all people entering a mine, provide quarantine facilities, identify those with pre-existing conditions and carry out routine disinfection." [58]

Turkey

Coal miners in Zonguldak reportedly self-isolated in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, citing the risk to those with pre-existing conditions.[59]

In April, President Recep Tayyip Erdoga included the city of Zonguldak in an intercity travel ban, owing to the “prevalence of lung diseases,” and imposed a weekend curfew. It was the only small city on the list of major metropolitan areas.[60]

Ukraine

DTEK has suspended 10 coal mines and auxiliary enterprises due to the "systemic crisis in the energy sector" which, according to company spokespersons, has been "aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic."[61]

United States

In March 2020, Foresight Energy, a St. Louis-based coal mining company and affiliate with Murray Energy Corporation, filed for bankruptcy citing in court papers "the global economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus epidemic."[62]

On March 12 2020, the United Mine Workers of America raised concerns about the "significant risk" coronavirus poses to coal miners, especially those with underlying health issues, like black lung disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimates that about ten percent of U.S. coal miners already suffer from black lung disease.[63]

In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf ordered all "non-life sustaining" businesses to close in response to the coronavirus on March 19. While oil and natural gas extraction were included in a list of businesses considered "life sustaining," coal mining was not.[64]

On March 30, Consol Energy's Bailey Mine in West Virginia shut down after two workers tested positive for Covid-19. The shutdown was scheduled to last two weeks.[65] On April 13, the mine reopened.[66]

On March 30, five Virginia coal mines announced that they would be shutting down operations to stop the spread of coronavirus.[67] However, they plan to continue to fulfill weekly orders using the stockpiles they already have available. One of the mines, Buchanan, accounted for about 41% of Virginia’s overall coal tonnage last year and just less than a fifth of the state’s total number of coal mine workers.[68]

In the first week of April, Alliance Resource Partners temporarily halted production at its Illinois Basin mines.[69]

On April 9 2020, it was reported that the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration is not able to identify mines closed for COVID-19 related causes nor offer figures on the number of cases of the disease reported by mine employees. Meanwhile, the United Mine Workers of America, is tracking cases at mines with union-represented employees, and according to a union spokesman there were three positive tests at Peabody Energy's Shoal Creek Mine and two more at Warrior Met Coal's No. 7 coal mine as of April 8.[70]

In Alabama, two coal mines have tested positive for COVID-19.[6]

On April 24, the state of Wyoming lost 300 coal jobs with producers citing COIVD impacts. Peabody Energy cut 170 jobs at its North Antelope Rochelle Mine and Navajo Transitional Energy Co. cut a total 130 jobs at its Antelope Coal Mine and its Spring Creek Mine in Montana. As NTEC put it, “The decision comes after weeks of monitoring the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, its existing and expected impacts on our customers, and the resulting reduction in coal demand.”[71] On May 22, NTEC furloughed or laid off a further 101 workers at the Antelope mine.[72]

On May 19, 2020, NPR News reported on the difficulty of coal miners in Kentucky to socially distance on the job in the midst of the pandemic. Journalist Syndey Boles confirmed that the Mine Safety and Health Administration is encouraging mine operators to take precautions, but that these are voluntary, and the agency has issued no specific policies.[6]

In May, NPR reported the Mine Safety and Health Administration is not collecting comprehensive data on COVID-19 cases in the mines,[6] although S&P Global reported in April that Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health David Zatezalo is "keeping a spreadsheet of those who notify us."[73]

On May 20, about 70 miners (half the workforce) at the Twentymile Coal Company’s Foidel Creek Mine in Oak Creek, Colorado was furloughed due to COVID limitations, until operations resume in June.[74]

Vietnam

In February 2020 the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) asked state-owned coal and oil and gas producers to develop plans and measures to response to impact of the acute respiratory disease caused by a new COVID-19 outbreak.[75] On March 23, 2020 it was reported that the expansion of two mines owned by Vietnam Coal and Mineral Industry Group (TKV) would be delayed due to restrictions on workers and equipment entering Vietnam from China. The delayed expansions are at the Khe Cham II-IV mine and Nui Beo mine. Overall the Ministry of Industry and Trade estimated that coal production for the year would decline by 30%.[76]

Resources and articles

References

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