And the latest MSHA data showed that coal employment in Ohio remained essentially flat during the quarter, while Virginia lost 200 jobs during the period.
Matt Wasson, who follows coal jobs data for the group Appalachian Voices, said that the third-quarter MSHA data are a bit confusing at the national level, perhaps in part because of unusual swings in employment reported by operators in Indiana. Companies reported a second-quarter jump in coal employment of 932 jobs, then a third-quarter drop of 959 jobs, accounting for about one-fifth of the swing in national employment figures.
Industry experts and analysts have pointed to factors other than new regulations as playing much larger roles in the decline of Appalachian coal: cheap natural gas, competition from other coal basins and the mining-out of the best and easiest-to-reach reserves.
Government and private forecasts have for years projected a decline in Southern West Virginia production, fueled by quality reserves being mined out and increasing competition from giant surface mines in Wyoming's Powder River Basin.
More recently, advances in natural gas drilling resulted in extremely cheap prices, prompting many power producers to switch fuels. Additionally, new EPA efforts to reduce toxic air emissions have forced some utilities to speed up plans to close older, inefficient coal plants that couldn't meet the EPA standards.
The latest data from the federal Energy Information Administration show that utility demand for U.S. steam coal has dropped 17 percent this year, in large part because of competition from natural gas. EIA is projecting the lowest coal consumption by the U.S. electricity sector in at least 20 years.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.