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The Consol sale: A bet foretold

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Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Consider it another watershed moment in the sea change that is sweeping America's energy sector.

Consol Energy Inc., the venerable coal giant of Pittsburgh, which traces its antecedents to the Mellon family, is selling off more than half of its coal operations to Murray Energy of St. Clairsville, Ohio, in a $3.5 billion deal.

The move will enable Consol to concentrate more on its burgeoning Marcellus and Utica shale gas operations. Its remaining mining operations, such as the Bailey Mine in Greene County, the largest such facility in the world, will help provide the cash to bankroll Consol's continuing soldiering into the shale revolution.

It is a business bet foretold by the times. Investors don't see much good ahead for a coal industry beset by the politicization of environmental regulations destined to kill the domestic industry altogether. And the ample availability and promise of shale gas — far cleaner than coal and far richer in byproducts — is a no-brainer for such an energy conglomerate as Consol.

That said, we would be remiss in not noting the passage into history of some of Consol's more legendary connections, such as those to the quite productive Shoemaker and McElroy mines in northern West Virginia and, decades ago in Eastern Ohio, to some of the world's largest strip-mining shovels (The Mountaineer, The Silver Spade and The Gem of Egypt) — mechanical marvels of the day that drove environmentalists nuts.

Indeed, a new era has dawned for Consol. Here's to its winning a commonsense bet.

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