Coal Tattoo

Alpha update: Massey operations slow to improve

Alpha Natural Resources officials just wrapped up a conference call discussing their first earnings report containing a full quarter of results following the takeover of Massey Energy. Here are a few highlights:

— So far, Alpha hasn’t been able to achieve any major reductions in overall safety violations at former Massey operations, though officials said that the number of more serious “D orders” has dropped since Alpha acquired the properties in June.

“That’s going to take some time,” said Alpha CEO Kevin Crutchfield. “You can’t turn this thing on a dime.”

— While the coal industry continues to complain about EPA’s crackdown on mountaintop removal permits, Alpha officials say they’re in good shape with permits to run through 2012.

“We fell pretty good about what we have permitted so far,” Crutchfield said.  “There’s nothing in 2012 that is contingent upon any sort of regulatory relaxation or need.”

(Those comments are especially interesting, given the ongoing litigation over the Highland Reylas permit that Alpha inherited from Massey)

— The push for more natural gas drilling — by the industry and by the Obama administration — is going to put a ceiling on coal prices, especially in the east, Alpha believes.

“Clearly, the current administration through their regulatory approach is focused on picking winners and losers, and they certainly don’t want coal to win,” Crutchfield said.

— Alpha is continuing to evaluate the former Massey properties, and to make decisions regarding which — if any — it might put on the market because they don’t fit with Alpha’s priorities.