A horse of a new color

NESTLED amongst its sister mines in the southwestern mountains of West Virginia, Massey Energy's Horse Creek Eagle mine may only be one year old - but is already enjoying a productive, efficient rhythm that even mines in their prime are still seeking. By Donna Caudill
A horse of a new color A horse of a new color A horse of a new color A horse of a new color A horse of a new color

Scorpion Cable Handler being manufactured at Advanced Chain Technologies' UK factory.

Donna Schmidt

Published in the August 2007 American Longwall Magazine

Under 1300ft of cover at its deepest in the Eagle seam, the Horse Creek Eagle mine controlled by Massey's Marfork Coal Company is a newcomer to the industry neighborhood in southern Appalachia. Production began there July 21, 2006, and the 80 workers who drive the road to Pettus to work each day haven't looked back.

For a newer operation, its performance and goals are striking. Horse Creek Eagle continues to fly towards its 900,000-ton goal for this year with production as of late June coming in at 550,000t.

According to Marfork president Chris Blanchard, the performance seen in the mine's first full year is a great indication of the healthy, long life that lies ahead for it. With expected annual output between 800,000t and 1 million tons, and a remaining reserve base of approximately 17.5Mt, it's easy to see the possibilities for a 20-year lifespan for the mine.

"The successful start to mine at Horse Creek has been exciting for everyone at Marfork" Blanchard said. "We not only have these reserves at the mine but now are looking at possibilities of using this mine to access adjacent reserves."

Horse Creek Eagle cuts between 72 and 78 inches, with a coal seam height throughout that averages 60in. Blanchard said the intermediate shale roof varies between 9in and 36in in thickness, and the main roof is a massive sandstone; floor conditions are typically fireclay and shale.

Officials for the mine note that it is anticipated full pillar extraction will be employed using both timbers and mobile roof support (MRS) units. In support of that plan, the strata is secured with Jennmar fully grouted resin bolts, typically in 48in and 60in lengths, in a standard 4ft by 4ft pattern.

Even at its highest overburden measurement of 1300ft, Blanchard said for the most part, additional support is not required. However, when necessary, both additional rib and roof supports are installed.

"Gas hasn't been an issue at this mine," said Blanchard of a factor so often seen prevalent at Appalachian mines, and added that no pre-drainage processes are necessary.

The rhythm of a fluid production process is evident underground at Horse Creek Eagle, with a vast number of employees boasting many years of experience. That experience and drive is evident in the mine - average daily production, which officials estimate averages 12,000 raw tons daily (5000 clean tons) thanks to personnel skill working in tandem with equipment availability that is normally at 90% or better.

Nine headings are driven at the mine for development, with pillar dimensions ranging between 80ft by 60ft to 100ft by 100ft. Joy was the original equipment manufacturer of choice for the continuous miners (14CM-15), and shuttle cars (10-B) while the supporting equipment includes Stamler feeder breakers, Fletcher bolters in both the RRII and CRRII models, and Fairchild scoops.

Once mined and on its way to the surface, a 2000tph, 48in conveyor system keeps output rolling without significant bottleneck issues. The operation employs the use of Goodyear belting atop a Continental Conveyor infrastructure to do the job.

When it comes to personnel and maintenance, Horse Creek Eagle has its own cadence for that as well. There are three shifts run daily, two of nine hours each for production and one of eight hours for maintenance.

Maintenance is performed during the midnight shift with the help of a computer-based preventative maintenance system developed in-house at the Massey Coal Services subsidiary.

Once mined coal reaches the earth, it crosses overland conveyors then laces across the mountains and forest of southern West Virginia to reach the Marfork processing plant, boasting a 2400tph feed capacity. Preparation methods at the facility include heavy media vessels and cyclones, spirals, and both traditional and Jameson froth flotation. Once complete, the product is sent on to be delivered via CSX rail to several customers in shipments as long as 150 cars.

Going forward, Horse Creek Eagle is keeping its tempo going upwards, and as part of that has been evaluating and working on a new wireless communications system to be used underground.

Even with a relatively small team of 80 workers, with 72 underground, accidents can happen. However, Massey is pleased to report a 0.00 lost injury time rate and LTA since the mine began producing more than a year ago.

Massey chief operating officer Chris Adkins commented that Horse Creek miners epitomize Raymond Bradbury's slogan: "A safe mine is a productive mine." He said the positive attitude is carried through everyday production at all the company's mines.

"They are achieving the ultimate goal in mining - no accidents and record production. We are very proud of their accomplishments," Adkins said.