TribLIVE

| Business

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Hires train with veterans in Consol mines

Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review - Ken Kuzminsky, section foreman at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy, stands by as trainees practice mining at the BMX mine in East Finley, Pa., on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Andrew Russell  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Ken Kuzminsky, section foreman at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy, stands by as trainees practice mining at the BMX mine in East Finley, Pa., on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review - Nick Stewart, section supervisor trainee at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy, waits to go into the classroom at the BMX mine in East Finley, Pa., on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Andrew Russell  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Nick Stewart, section supervisor trainee at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy, waits to go into the classroom at the BMX mine in East Finley, Pa., on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review - Charles Eichleberger, a trainee at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy, practices mining at the BMX mine in East Finley, Pa., on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Andrew Russell  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Charles Eichleberger, a trainee at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy, practices mining at the BMX mine in East Finley, Pa., on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review - Tim Harvilla, a foreman trainee at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy, is illuminated by the headlamp of a fellow miner in the BMX mine in East Finley on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Andrew Russell  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Tim Harvilla, a foreman trainee at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy, is illuminated by the headlamp of a fellow miner in the BMX mine in East Finley on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review - Nick Stewart, section supervisor trainee at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy, operates a Mantrip, a shuttle used to transport miners out of mines, at the BMX mine in East Finley, Pa., on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Andrew Russell  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Nick Stewart, section supervisor trainee at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy, operates a Mantrip, a shuttle used to transport miners out of mines, at the BMX mine in East Finley, Pa., on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review - Miners and trainees practice mining at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy at the BMX mine in East Finley, Pa., on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Andrew Russell  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Miners and trainees practice mining  at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy at the BMX mine in East Finley, Pa., on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review - Miners stand by at the Mantrip, a shuttle used to transport miners out of mines, at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy at the BMX mine in East Finley, Pa., on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Andrew Russell  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Miners stand by at the Mantrip, a shuttle used to transport miners out of mines, at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy at the BMX mine in East Finley, Pa., on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review - Albert Stein, a safety technician at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy (right), helps a member of the media get suited up before entering the BMX mine in East Finley, Pa., on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Andrew Russell  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Albert Stein, a safety technician at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy (right), helps a member of the media get suited up before entering the BMX mine in East Finley, Pa., on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review - Lynn Seay, a spokeswoman for Consol Energy, talks to members of the media at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy before entering the BMX mine in East Finley, Pa., on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Andrew Russell  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Lynn Seay, a spokeswoman for Consol Energy, talks to members of the media at the Consol Energy Inc. Underground Training Academy before entering the BMX mine in East Finley, Pa., on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

On the Grid

From the shale fields to the cooling towers, Trib Total Media covers the energy industry in Western Pennsylvania and beyond. For the latest news and views on gas, coal, electricity and more, check out On the Grid today.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Timothy Puko
Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Chad Pethtel had never touched a continuous miner machine before Wednesday.

By Thursday he was guiding one straight into the Pittsburgh No. 8 coal seam, 800 feet underground.

The 70-ton, sedan-sized machine scraped off wet, black chunks of coal, then stopped to reinforce the roof. It drilled rods eight feet up into the earth above to help hold the flaky sheets of rock into one stable ceiling.

Pethtel was at the controls, with a mentor by his side, the whole time.

“There's so many safety measures put on the machine — it could get away from you and at any time — but it's pretty much like a video game,” said Pethtel, 33, of Carolina in Marion County, W.Va. “Just know what you're doing and make sure you keep your thumbs in the right place at the right time.”

Pethtel is a foreman trainee at Blacksville No. 2 Mine and one of about 550 Consol Energy Inc. employees this year going through a new training program that company officials showed off to news media and government officials.

Trainees spend a week in an underground classroom at Bailey Mine Complex in Richhill, Greene County. One part is a typical-looking classroom with red plastic tables on painted gray floors. The rest is just around the corner: tunnels with mining equipment actually mining coal.

The program pairs trainees with miners who have as many as 40 years of experience. There's a wave of retirements coming all across the coal industry, and mining companies need to give focused, hands-on training to recruits to minimize potential for accidents and injuries, said Joe Sbaffoni, director of the Bureau of Mine Safety at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

“This is the way to do it,” Sbaffoni said after Consol officials led an hourlong tour and demonstration. “We've worked very closely with the program because I believe in it 100 percent. ... This is unique. It's state of the art.”

The industry had a slew of accidents the last time it hired a wave of workers in the 1970s, he said.

There were an average of 141 coal mining deaths a year nationwide that decade, compared to just 31 a year from 2006 to 2012, federal Mine Safety and Health Administration statistics show.

Pennsylvania had no mining deaths in 2010 and 2012, for the first years ever. The state's last mining death underground happened at Bailey in June 2009.

The $700 million investment — including a new longwall section at Bailey that opens in March — comes at a troubled time for Cecil-based Consol. The prices of natural gas and electricity, and a federal crackdown on coal pollution, have battered the coal industry. Consol alone lost nearly $14.6 million dollars in the first half of 2013 and had a fire at Blacksville.

Largely because of retirements, the company needs to hire about 500 to 1,000 coal miners every year. It has to stay strong for the long haul, and that means recruiting and training workers even during times of financial trouble and uncertainty, Consol President Nicholas J. DeIuliis said.

“That puts us in a position to ride out the peaks and the troughs in the market,” he said. “There's going to be really strong periods of time and challenging periods of time. The goal is not to change your decision-making in tough times.”

Consol's classes include supervision, equipment operation and mine examination. The goal is to get trainees a break from the hectic pace of production and into an environment where they can think and do work that inexperienced miners are not allowed to do, officials said.

“What's nice is you can bring them here and the pressure is off,” said Scott Kee, assistant superintendent at Bailey Mine Expansion. “They can learn and absorb it better. Otherwise, you take them in sometimes, and their heads just start spinning.”

Kee is in the type of position that Tim Harvilla would like someday. The 28-year-old from Mt. Pleasant, Washington County, started as an industrial engineer, studying how long it took company workers to complete tasks in the mine. To move up, he needs experience in doing some of the work, and learning from veterans is the best way, he said.

“These guys are absolute professionals at their jobs,” Harvilla said. “They give you tricks you won't learn in any book.”

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Business Headlines

  1. Range Resources cuts workforce 11%
  2. Post-Gazette offers voluntary buyouts in bid to avoid layoffs
  3. United Airlines hack coincided with incursion into government employee data
  4. Travelers find direct Web route to Priory’s spirited past in North Side
  5. Muni bond funds stressed
  6. Plastics propel Bayer’s 2Q earnings
  7. Voice-assisted technology raises privacy concerns
  8. Gold continues to fall further out of favor with investors
  9. China rebound, Fed statement fuel rally on Wall Street
  10. Fed holds steady on rates
  11. Urban rentals pit old vs. young