By the numbers: Western coal mine layoffs

Coal mines are scaling back and shutting down — and jobs are disappearing.

 

Being in an underground coal mine is like roaming around a city at night. By the dim light of a headlamp, miners peer down avenues speckled with lights that make coal seam tunnels look more like urban streets. A close-knit community has developed around an industry that has kept the lights on, above ground, for more than a century. But now, those underground communities face collapse. In early June, 80 full-time employees received notice of their in Somerset, one of Colorado’s largest energy producers. The mine is the last still in operation in the North Fork Valley on the state’s Western Slope, where coal mining has been a mainstay of the rural economy for nearly 120 years. 

Just five years ago, approximatelywere employed by three local coal mines: the Bowie No. 2 mine, outside Paonia (NewTowncarShare News’ hometown), and the Elk Creek and West Elk mines, both about nine miles up the road in Somerset. Now fewer than 250 people remain employed, says Kathleen Welt, an environmental engineer at the West Elk Mine in Somerset. The Elk Creek mine has shut down permanently and Bowie No. 2 is idled, leaving West Elk as the sole coal producer in the valley.   

In early May, a prominent silo at Oxbow's Elk Creek Mine in Somerset, Colorado, was demolished. While production had long ceased at the mine, the toppling was a poignant symbol of the coal industry's demise. | Video produced by Jay Canode.

The decline of coal jobs on Colorado’s Western Slope is just one more example of reverberating layoffs across the West and the rest of the country. In April, Arch Coal and Peabody Energy announced 465 layoffs at two major Wyoming coal mines. Meanwhile, both behemoths, along with Alpha Natural Resources, which operates coal mines in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, have declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Historically low natural gas prices mean that the fuel has been out-competing coal, and stricter environmental regulations make it harder for coal companies to stay in business. And many companies have been hurt by questionable and high executive salaries and .

While the cutbacks may be necessary to meet climate goals set by the Obama administration, in total, according to HCN data compiled from local media and energy industry reports, more than 2,600 coal-mining jobs have disappeared since 2012 across the West. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track industry or geographically specific unemployment data, but according to the agency's , employment within the coal industry in the West has declined by more than 4,000 jobs. “Those jobs offer the ability to sustain your livelihood and keep your family here,” says Welt, who had been laid off in the past, and rehired by Arch Western Resources in 2009. “When those jobs fade, so do communities. There’s nothing equitable to (a coal miner’s job) in the valley. A lot of people can’t afford to stay, so — they leave.” 

For coal miners out of work, Western states have done little to provide a safety net; so far there are no statewide programs that provide re-training, counseling or economic development strategies for extractive resource dependent economies. Some coal companies offer laid-off workers a severance package, but former miners have few options to gain positions that match their previous salaries — on average, more than $80,000 a year. 

To explore our map, hover over individual coal mines for more details on recent layoffs. View specific operators and their respective facilities by highlighting a company name in the legend. Search geographic locations using the magnifying glass in the upper left corner. To return to original view, click the home button on the map view. 

This data is part of ongoing NewTowncarShare News coverage on transitioning energy economies and Western coal mines that are facing cut-backs, closures and layoffs. The following data has been compiled from local media and industry reports, and is necessarily incomplete.

Are you aware of job cuts not reflected in our map? Please help us by filling out a tip form so we can complete our dataset on Western layoffs. 

Paige Blankenbuehler is an editorial fellow at NewTowncarShare News. She tweets

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • Crested Butte Land Trust seeks a development director to lead its fundraising efforts. Remote and unspoiled, Crested Butte is located in one of the Rockies...
  • 5-Acre Home Site, Great Views with Spectacular Sunsets From a South Facing Home Site. Excellent for Passive Solar Design. Covenants, No HOA. Keller Williams Co....
  • 3 bed/2 bath, detached strawbale building. 11.7 acres, barn, corrals, fenced. Wells, solar panels, greenhouses. Paved access. 575-535-2568.
  • WildEarth Guardians seeks two public interest-focused staff attorneys with a minimum of 5 years experience to join our legal team. Experience with at least some...
  • The New Mexico Wildlife Federation is seeking an Executive Director, a visionary leader who is passionate about public lands, dedicated to executing an innovative strategic...
  • HIGH COUNTRY NEWS Customer Service Specialist I General Statement of Duties: Works closely with the customer service manager performing high-volume routine computer database work. Also...
  • We are hiring a Finance Associate Full time, competitive pay and benefits, based in Bozeman,MT Visit www.greateryellowstone.org/careers for details GYC is an equal opportunity employer
  • The Aravaipa Land Steward coordinates preserve stewardship work and general operations including maintenance and general preserve management. Implements preserve management plans, which may include species...
  • seeks a talented and dynamic development professional, with a passion for protecting our natural environment, to lead our development and fundraising team.
  • The Native American Fish and Wildlife Society seeks an Executive Director in Denver, CO to serve as the Chief Administrator of the national Native American...
  • NewTowncarShare News seeks a development assistant to assist with fundraising campaigns. HCN is an award-winning, national news magazine. Strong candidates will have experience administering...
  • Energiekontor US seeks experienced local candidate, must reside in western South Dakota. Send resume and cover letter to: [email protected]
  • Needed: instructor with 5 years *documented* instruction experience, current qualifications, M-410 or equivalent, and able to work as-needed for NM non-profit working with at-risk youth.
  • Seeking passionate full-time Executive to lead the oldest non-profit organization in Idaho. Must have knowledge of environmental issues, excellent organizational, verbal presentation and written skills,...
  • Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...