Armstrong Coal

Although the United States is attempting to cut back on its coal consumption, the fact remains that coal still accounts for approximately 40 percent of electricity generation in this country, according to Kenneth E. Allen, executive vice president of operations for Armstrong Coal. Combined with the exponential growth of the export market in the last four to five years, coal is still a hot commodity.

“The market is changing, of course – natural gas is very cheap, and it is putting a lot of pressure on coal markets and coal utilities,” Allen says. “There’s pressure from the EPA and the current administration, as well, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.”

In fact, Allen has seen it all over the course of his career in the coal mining industry. After spending 40 years with Peabody, Allen retired in 2007 to join Armstrong Coal. Allen says he spent several years traveling for his career, so the opportunity to work in his home region of western Kentucky was too good to pass up.

“I retired one day and started working for Armstrong the next day,” he says. “Western Kentucky is my home. I had a great time helping put this together and building a new company here.”

Through a series of purchases and leases, Armstrong controls more than 300 million tons of proven and probable coal reserves throughout Western Kentucky. The company operates two underground and five surface mines, and it sells coal via barge, rail and truck to utilities located close to its operations, as well as to the southern market in need of high-Btu coal.

Armstrong Coal’s mines and facilities are:

  • Midway Mine, preparation plant and rail loadout;
  • Parkway Mine and preparation plant;
  • East Fork Mine;
  • Equality Boot Mine;
  • Lewis Creek Mine;
  • Kronos Mine;
  • Maddox Mine; and
  • Armstrong dock and preparation plant facility.

Making the Blends
Armstrong Coal has responded to growing demand for cleaner coal by custom-blending coal from various seams for its clients.

“Various seams offer different qualities, so we can blend those qualities to come up with specific quality parameters that individual customers need to fit their specific boilers,” Allen explains. “We’re mining multiple seams from the No. 14 to the No. 9, and now we’re about to start mining the No. 8 in the near future. We’ve set up coal-handling and prep plants to be able to custom-blend to the needs of our customers.”

The company is running four draglines, which Allen says are the only draglines operating in the state of Kentucky at this time. Armstrong Coal produced 7.5 million tons of coal in 2011, and Allen says the company is on pace to produce 8.5 million in 2012. Armstrong Coal will continue to grow its capacity as it begins operations on the additional reserves and mines it owns.

Recruiting and Training
With the number of qualified mining employees dwindling, Armstrong Coal has placed a huge priority on training efforts. The company has its own in-house training program, and it also has partnered with the community college in Madisonville, Ky., to provide mine industry training.

The Energy Technology Center at Madisonville Community College uses virtual reality technology to simulate the operation of just about every machine a miner would use on the job, according to Allen. The center is available to anybody interested in joining the mining industry at any level, whether at the certification level or by working toward a degree in mining.

“We’re fortunate to have a college that helps us develop our own in-house training system for various skills, whether it’s for electricians and mechanics or supervisors,” Allen says.

Future of Growth
No matter how large Armstrong Coal grows to become in the future, it will remain committed to keeping employees safe and employed no matter what.

“We put our employees first – health and safety of our employees are priorities Nos. 1 and 2,” Allen explains. “We want to continue to grow the company to be able to continue to provide good jobs with good wages and benefits for our employees.” EMI