Source: Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis
Two coal mines in Wyoming closed and sent 700 workers home Monday afternoon after their owner filed for bankruptcy, the latest blow to a region that has been battered by an economic downturn in the fossil fuel sector.
Blackjewel LLC, which operates Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines near Gillette, sent the workers home after a bank denied the company $20 million in financing to continue operations during bankruptcy proceedings, CEO Jeffery Hoop said.
Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr are the fourth- and sixth-largest producing coal mines in the country. The sudden closure hearkens back to March 2016, when two nearby mines laid off more than 460 workers, touching off economic shock waves that are still being felt in the Powder River Basin today.
Blackjewel owes at least $500 million in liabilities, including about $6 million owed to employees, according to court documents. Its financial problems, along with much of the coal sector, come amid increased competition from natural gas and renewables.
“The ripple effect of this bankruptcy might be felt severely (by) Wyoming taxpayers and vendors,” said Clark Williams-Derry, director of energy finance at Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based environmental think tank. “And the millions upon millions of dollars Campbell (County) is owed, they might not get.”
Blackjewel is the fifth coal producer in Wyoming to file for bankruptcy in recent years. Bristol, Tennessee-based Alpha Natural Resources filed for bankruptcy in 2015, followed by Peabody Energy and Arch Coal in 2016. Westmoreland Coal, which operates the Kemmerer Mine in southwest Wyoming, filed for bankruptcy in October. In May, Cloud Peak Energy declared bankruptcy. The coal giant owns the Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines in the Powder River Basin.