U.S. News

Patriot Coal's West Virginia mine shut on MSHA order

BANGALORE (Reuters) - A West Virginia mine operated by Patriot Coal Corp facing ventilation problems was shut down by the U.S. Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA), a Labor Department spokesman said.

Shares of the company fell as much as 8 percent on Friday.

“On Tuesday, MSHA issued an order closing the Harris No. 1 mine in Boone County, West Virginia,” the spokesman said. “The order was issued because the mine’s ventilation system was not functioning as designed.”

The mine, which produces steelmaking coal, was facing a problem of air reversal in its bleeder system and had not been reopened as of Friday morning, he added.

Patriot did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Leslie Fitzwater, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, said the company had been warned earlier about low oxygen levels in parts of the mine during a routine MSHA investigation, but the problem had not fixed when MSHA officials returned to the mine on Tuesday.

Fitzwater also said officials with the state agency expect the mine to be reopened early next week.

The agency is cracking down on mines with faulty working conditions after an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia operated by Massey Energy Co killed 29 miners in April, the worst U.S. mine disaster in a quarter century.

The Harris No. 1 mine produced about 115,000 tons of coal in the first quarter of 2010, and about 620,000 tons in 2009. In earlier years the mine had reported production of up to 4 million tons of coal.

“Although the volumes from Harris are not large, the mine produces higher-quality met coal, so a longer shutdown would be expected to affect Patriot’s profitability,” BMO Capital Markets analyst Meredith Bandy said in a note.

The company recently announced a 1.5 million ton swing to metallurgical coal from thermal coal to cash in on surging demand in Asian countries.

Patriot also said it is currently finalizing plans to open its Black Oak metallurgical mine and has “advanced plans” for several additional metallurgical coal projects.

Shares of the company were trading down 6 percent at $17.84 Friday afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange, after falling to $17.46 earlier in the session. The broader Dow Jones US Coal Index was down 4 percent.

Reporting by Antonita Madonna Devotta; Editing by Unnikrishnan Nair