LEXINGTON, Kentucky — A state report shows the number of coal jobs in Kentucky has dwindled to its lowest point since 1950.
The Lexington Herald-Leader (http://bit.ly/ZdvipP) cited data from the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet in reporting that the 13,109 people worked in the coal industry during the first quarter of 2013. The newspaper reports that is the least amount of workers since state officials began keeping records in 1950.
"These numbers are not surprising, but they're very concerning," said Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association.
Employment at Kentucky coal mines has decreased by almost 5,700 workers in eastern Kentucky over the last 18 months and production has fallen by 42 percent. In September of 2011, there were 18, 804 workers in the industry.
According to analysts, the low price of natural gas was a key factor in the lower demand for coal from Eastern Kentucky in 2012, when production dropped almost 28 percent.
The state report says production at underground mines in eastern Kentucky increased by nearly 2 percent in the first quarter of 2013, but it fell by 4.6 percent at surface mines meaning an overall decline.
In contrast, coal production in western Kentucky was up in the first quarter of 2013. The report shows that western Kentucky produced more coal in the first quarter than eastern Kentucky.
"We seem to be in a real change position," Bissett said.
Although Pike County in eastern Kentucky has been the state's top coal producer for decades, the report shows Union County in western Kentucky was the largest coal producer in 2012.
Meanwhile, longtime coal operator Bill Smith said he is planning to open seven mines in the heart of the eastern Kentucky coalfields.
Bill Smith said most of the coal extracted by his High Ridge Mining operation in Pike County will be shipped to China to help fuel its economy.
Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com