Thursday, January 8, 2015

Kentucky Coal Mining

Satellite: loop of track in upper-left corner
While studying the route of the Paducah & Louisville Railway (PAL), I noticed a loop of track on the map east of Madisonville, KY. Those loops are used to load unit trains. Zooming out in the satellite image, one sees the tell-tail land scars of strip mining for coal. But these are "old" scars --- they are covered with trees.
But looking south of the loop, I see active coal stockpiles. So it looks like trains are still being loaded. Then I noticed the conveyor belt that goes towards the northeast and that is highlighted by the yellow lines.
The conveyors are going to the mine heads of underground mines. The Alliance Resource Partners have 3 underground mines along the PAL --- Dotiki, Hopkins County Coal, and Warrior Coal. They all use "continuous mining units employing room-and-pillar mining techniques" to produce high-sulfer coal. According to the P&L System Map with "Coal Facilities" selected, the loadout in the satellite images above is the Cimarron Mine. Dave noted in 2004 that the Cimarron Mine was idle. I assume the loadout facilities have been "recycled" to serve the newer underground mines.
Photo by Dave Honan, used with permission

The Warrior Mine has its own loadout. The P&L Map also shows the McHenry Mine. But I think the name is obsolete. The web page indicates that its last year of production was 1995. The Armstrong Coal Company referenced on the P&L Map has/is developing several mines in the Ohio County --- both surface and underground. They have a 150-car rail loop for automated loading of rail cars at their Midway Mine that connects to both the P&L and CSX, but I could not find it on the map.

River View Underground Coal Mine
There are several other mines listed on the Alliance Resource Partners page. The River View mine is particularly noteworthy because of its high output, 9.3 million tons in 2013, and because it loads directly into barges on the Ohio River at Mile Post 843. The satellite image is the storage and load facilities. If you follow the conveyor belt, the mine head is east and a little south of this area.


I was aware that there is a lot of coal in Illinois and southwestern Indiana because of the Illinois Basin geologic formation, now I have learned that this basin extends into western Kentucky.
It is interesting how different sources have different info. The Mine Quest map is probably more accurate because Madisonville, KY, appears to be on the edge of the basin and strip mining is generally along the edge of the basin because that is where the bend in the basin causes the coal seams to outcrop. The WSJ article was interesting because it says the primary market for Illinois Basin coal is southeastern utilities that are switching from Appalachian Basin coal. Because the seams are thicker and use non-union labor, the production costs are half the costs of Appalachian coal. That savings more than offsets the longer train routes after sulfur dioxide scrubbers have been added to the power plants. This contradicts what I had read and stated in a previous post that Illinois coal was being shipped to China. So that goes on the "head scratching" pile.

If you look at Google's road map, you can see the land is "pock marked" with bodies of water. This indicates the land has been strip mined. Panning the map reveals a line of pock marked land runs along a line from Providence, KY, through Maddisonville and Central City to Morgantown. So the Mine Quest map appears to be accurate and the Heartland map appears to be wrong.

Mining Photography Archive posted
Overview of an early Colonial Mine pit outside of Madisonville, KY. Note the 1450 and 2550 working the same cut.

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