CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin say that they are closely monitoring the purchase by Murray Energy of five of West Virginia's six largest underground coal-mining operations.Both West Virginia Democrats said Monday night that they hope Murray Energy focuses on mine safety, job security and employee benefit protections when it takes over five northern West Virginia mines from CONSOL Energy."I am very closely monitoring the sale of some of CONSOL's mines to Murray Energy because I want to make absolutely sure that West Virginia's coal miners are treated fairly and with the total respect they deserve," Rockefeller said. "Murray Energy must make it their priority to focus directly on the thousands of West Virginia workers and retirees impacted by this deal -- their workplace safety, their job security, and the health and pension benefits they've earned with tough and dangerous work over many years."Manchin said that CONSOL has "always been an industry leader in mine safety as well as a community-minded company that has continued to reach out to our hardworking miners and their families."I have looked to CONSOL to set the gold standard in mining conditions, and I can only hope that Murray Energy will follow in CONSOL's footsteps to put our miners first," Manchin said.In a $3.5 billion deal announced Monday, CONSOL is selling Ohio-based Murray Energy its McElroy, Shoemaker, Blacksville, Loveridge and Robinson Run mining complexes. The mines are located in Marion, Marshall and Monongalia counties and employ about 2,800 hourly workers who are represented by the United Mine Workers union. Most of Murray Energy's other mines are non-union operations.As part of the deal, CONSOL said that Murray Energy would acquire $2.4 billion of CONSOL balance sheet liabilities, including $2.1 billion for post-retirement employee benefit plans.Murray Energy has so far declined to comment beyond a press release confirming the deal with CONSOL.In that release, Murray Energy CEO Robert E. Murray said, "No company has developed a better legacy with its employees, with its customers, with the financial markets, with the regulatory agencies, or with the public in general, over many decades than has CONSOL and Consolidation Coal. Murray Energy intends to preserve this well-earned legacy."
Manchin said he looks forward to meeting with Murray Energy officials this week "to further discuss this transition."Rockefeller said that he had spoken with CONSOL officials about the sale, and had asked for a meeting with Murray "to discuss their plans and address our miners' concerns.""I intend to do everything I can to make sure every step of this transition keeps the best interests of West Virginia's coal miners and their families in mind," Rockefeller said.On Tuesday, West Virginia University issued a press release quoting two WVU professors commenting on the CONSOL-Murray transaction.John Deskins, who heads WVU's Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said in the release that the longwall mines CONSOL had in West Virginia were producing a steady stream of income, but were mature."CONSOL wants to capitalize on the natural gas boom," Deskins said. "Because they are mature, it's a good time to sell the mines, get the cash and invest that into natural gas."
The WVU release also quoted Christopher Bise, a professor who holds the Robert E. Murray Chair of Mining Engineering at WVU's Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. The post was established in 2009 to honor a $1 million contribution Murray made to the university for energy research, according to an earlier WVU press release."It's a lot easier to buy existing mines because you already have the infrastructure in place, the entrance to the mine, etc.," Bise said in the WVU statement. "It's easier than starting from scratch. From CONSOL Energy's standpoint, they see it as an opportunity to expand their business in natural gas. From Murray Energy's standpoint, they see the reserves to ensure the company has a long-term future in the area."Reach Ken Ward Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1702.