Buckskin Mine lays off 45, as coal jobs continue to disappear
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Buckskin Mine lays off 45, as coal jobs continue to disappear

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Coal Mine

BNSF locomotives line Wyoming Highway 51 during a lull in coal transportation on April 1, 2016 outside Gillette.

The Kiewit Corp. eliminated 45 jobs at its Buckskin Mine on Tuesday, the latest in a series of cutbacks at Powder River Basin coal mines in recent months.

Executives at the Omaha-based firm said the move was a response to weak market conditions. Coal production plunged to the lowest level in three decades in the first quarter of this year, as unseasonably warm weather, utilities’ preference for natural gas and large coal stockpiles depressed demand.

“We don’t take this decision lightly and it doesn’t reflect the quality of our employees,” Tom Janssen, a Kiewit spokesman, said in an email. “Unfortunately, the coal market remains extremely challenging.”

Tuesday’s announcement represented the second round of layoffs at the Campbell County mine this year. Kiewit cut 38 jobs in March.

Buckskin is one of several mines in the Powder River Basin that produces a brand of coal with low heat value. Those mines have accounted for much of the region’s lost tonnage in recent years. Their payrolls have declined alongside their output.

But few mines have sustained the decline witnessed at Buckskin. The Kiewit-owned mine employed 365 people at the end of 2012, according to government figures. As of the end of March that figure was 177.

Output, meanwhile, has fallen from around 25 million tons in 2010 to less than 14 million tons last year. The 1.8 million tons mined at Buckskin in the first quarter puts the company on track for an annual output of 7.4 million tons.

Announced layoffs at Wyoming coal mines this year now total 535. Arch Coal, Alpha Natural Resources and Peabody Energy have all cut payroll at their respective facilities this year. Cloud Peak Energy has offered buyouts.

Wyoming’s Powder River Basin mines employed 5,380 people at the end of 2015, according to U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration figures.

Follow energy reporter Benjamin Storrow on Twitter @bstorrow

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