METALLURGICAL COAL (IMAGE)
Met coal worldwide is less abundant and more valuable than thermal coal. Alabama’s met coal contains very low sulfur and has strong coking properties, making it ideally suited for steel makers. Around 70% of global steel production is dependent on met coal. Most of the met coal mined in Alabama is exported to steel makers in Europe, Asia, and South America via the Port of Mobile.
Three companies — Warrior Met Coal, Peabody Energy, and Murray Energy Corp — produce over 95 percent of all met coal mined in Alabama. One mine, Warrior Met Coal’s Mine #7, is responsible for 43 percent of the state’s total 11 million tons of met coal production. The dollar value of the met coal produced in Alabama during 2018 is estimated at $2 billion.
In 2018, 2,050 Alabamians were directly employed by the state’s met coal producers, which generated an annual payroll of approximately $288 million. Today, the average starting salary for an underground miner in the state’s met coal industry is $85,000 and increases to more than $100,000 after the first two years on the job.10 The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), a labor union that advocates for the safety and health of its members, represents miners who are employed by each of the state’s three major met coal producers.
Modern coal mining is a stark contrast from the historical photographs that often shape the profession’s public image. Today, each of Alabama’s underground met coal mines utilize safe and highly efficient longwall mining technology, which require a skilled workforce of miners to operate and maintain. A state-of-the-art, fully automated longwall mining system costs around $100 million and consists of self-advancing hydraulic ceiling supports called shields, which extend over 1,000 ft when assembled, a shearer that cuts a thin layer from face of the coal seam with each pass, and a plow system that moves the coal onto a conveyor system and takes it out of the mine. Longwall mining requires a team of engineers and highly skilled miners to support high-voltage electrical power distribution, maintain complex hydraulic systems, and install the dynamic mine ventilation systems that isolate and remove methane and dust during the mining process.
The state of Alabama has taken note of the high-paying skilled jobs provided by the met coal industry. The legislature appropriated $950,000 in the state’s 2020 Education Budget to expand the mine training center located at the Sumiton campus of Bevill State Community College.
The economic impact of Alabama’s met coal industry extends far beyond the mine. The export of met coal drives economic development at the Port of Mobile. In 2018, Mobile ranked fourth in the nation for shipping U.S. coal exports and first in handling coal imports. The McDuffie Coal Terminal generates approximately 50 percent of the total annual revenue earned by the Alabama State Port Authority. Additionally, 777 full-time jobs, with an average salary of $93,000, are supported by coal operations at the Port of Mobile and the transportation of met coal to the port via both railroad and inland waterway.