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Somerset mine officials invite President Trump to opening

Brian Bowling
| Friday, June 2, 2017, 9:00 a.m.
Rob Bottegal, head engineer of the Acosta Deep Mine for Corsa Mining, looks over at the Acosta Deep Mine in Jenner Township on Tuesday, Feb.28, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Rob Bottegal, head engineer of the Acosta Deep Mine for Corsa Mining, looks over at the Acosta Deep Mine in Jenner Township on Tuesday, Feb.28, 2017.
A driller drills blast holes in the pit of the Acosta Deep Mine in Jenner Township on Tuesday, Feb.28, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
A driller drills blast holes in the pit of the Acosta Deep Mine in Jenner Township on Tuesday, Feb.28, 2017.

Thursday's grand opening of a metallurgical coal mine in Somerset County could draw a special guest.

When announcing the United States' withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, President Trump referenced the pending “big opening of a brand new mine.” While he didn't name the mine, the Acosta Deep Mine is the only mine opening in the region in the next few weeks.

“They asked me if I'd go. I'm going to try,” the president said in the Rose Garden on Thursday.

A White House spokesperson on Friday said Trump's schedule for next week is still being worked out.

The company didn't limit the invitation to the president. It told the White House that it is inviting “any Trump family member and any member of the Cabinet,” CEO George G. Dethlefsen said.

The White House hasn't said whether the president will attend, he said.

“I think they're seriously considering it,” Dethlefsen said.

Mining the Middle Kittanning seam, the operation will employ about 70 to 100 people full time and produce about 400,000 tons of coal for the steel industry annually.

Met coal is used to make steel, and the company's customers include steelmakers in the United States, Asia, Europe and South America. Corsa Coal financed the project with a private offering and a $3 million grant from the state's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

The company has already extracted a couple of thousand tons of coal as part of preparing the three entrances to the deep mine. The entrances are at the bottom of a 120-foot-deep pit the company dug to create an outside staging area for the miners and their equipment.

The actual mining will start before the grand opening, Dethlefsen said.

“We're taking our first cut next week, ahead of (Thursday),” he said.

Corsa Coal has hired about 15 to 20 miners so far.

“That number will slowly ramp up as we progress deeper into the mine,” Dethlefesen said.

The mine should employ at least 70 people by the end of the year, he said.

With an estimated 5 million tons of recoverable coal in the three-mile seam, the company anticipates the mine will operate for at least 15 years. It could run an additional five years if Corsa Coal decides to mine the upper and lower Kittanning seams that have similar amounts of recoverable coal, Dethlefesen said.

Coal companies rarely hold opening ceremonies for mines, but the decision to hold this one has garnered the company a lot of positive response from the community, employees, vendors and other businesses, he said.

“If the president comes or any part of his team, that's just the cherry on top,” Dethlefsen said.

The number of bituminous coal mines operating in the United States plummeted from 1,010 in 2001 to 431 in 2015, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. Several trends drove the decline: Natural gas-fired electric plants replaced coal-fired operations, and weak demand for steel caused a five-year slump in international metallurgical coal prices — which fell from about $200 per ton in 2010 to a low of about $74 per ton in November 2015.

Prices rallied last year when China reduced working days at its coal mines from 330 days per year to 276, industry analysts said. Subsequent flooding that closed rail lines connecting mines in Queensland, Australia, with seaports caused a price spike in April.

Ramaco Resources opened a met coal mine in West Virginia in 2016 and plans to open another there this year.

The Lexington, Ky.-based company has been working for several years to obtain permits for a mine in Washington County, where it hopes to reach about 8 million tons of metallurgical coal that remains in the Pittsburgh seam beneath Nottingham Township.

The underground mine would employ 40 people full time and could create as many as 150 jobs through subcontractors, the company said.

A Ramaco spokesman couldn't be reached Friday.

Brian Bowling is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1218, bbowling@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TribBrian.

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