Alpha Natural Resources

Madelyn Beck

When Alpha Natural Resources went into bankruptcy in 2015, it formed a new company called Contura Energy with some of Alpha’s best coal assets - mines in Wyoming and Appalachia.

Earlier this summer, Contura announced it was going to go public, hoping to expand in the U.S. and beyond. Usually, companies go public and sell shares to raise money and grow their business.  

Now, Contura is backing out of that plan.

The company said it’s because of "capital market conditions."

Stephanie Joyce

West Virginia has settled a suit with Alpha Natural Resources over inaccurate revenue projections included in the coal company’s bankruptcy plan. In early November the state accused Alpha’s former top executives of fraud after it came to light that the company had $100 million dollars in undisclosed liabilities on its balance sheet. Those executives now work for Contura, which owns Alpha’s former mines in Wyoming.

West Virginia regulators have filed a complaint accusing several top executives of the newly-formed coal mining company Contura of committing fraud.

Contura was created as a new company during Alpha Natural Resources' bankruptcy this year. Contura’s main assets are Alpha’s former mines in Wyoming and its leadership team is composed of former Alpha executives.

Aaron Schrank

Amid a wave of historic coal bankruptcies, states like Texas and Colorado have taken proactive steps to make sure coal companies are on the hook for their future cleanup costs while in Wyoming, over $1 billion of these cleanup costs have gotten tied up in bankruptcy court.

Why are there different outcomes in different energy-rich states?

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

Alpha Natural Resources emerged from bankruptcy Tuesday as a much smaller company. 

As part of the bankruptcy deal, Alpha sold its core assets, including its mines in Wyoming, to a new company, Contura. Alpha will continue to operate a handful of mines in Appalachia, while Contura will take over the company's more lucrative mining operations in the Powder River Basin and elsewhere.

Contura is majority-owned by a group of Alpha’s former senior lenders. Employees of Alpha in Wyoming are now employed by Contura, which is being headed up by Alpha’s former CEO.

In a strongly-worded letter sent Friday, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality accuses the federal government of “political theater.”

According to federal regulators, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality did not take appropriate action against Alpha Natural Resources when it was in violation of coal mining regulations. 

The issue, outlined in a letter sent by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) to DEQ, was that the bankrupt company was mining coal without enough reclamation bonding in place to cover its hundreds of millions dollars in reclamation liabilities.  

A judge in Richmond, VA approved coal giant Alpha Natural Resources' plan to get out of bankruptcy Thursday. The approval went through, in part, because Alpha agreed to put up real financial assurances to cover future reclamation costs, which totaled hundreds of millions of dollars. 

"The terms of the settlement provide a managed route for the company to restructure and continue operating, while also taking responsibility for mine land reclamation as a result of former disturbances of private and federal lands," a Department of the Interior representative wrote in a statement. 

Stephanie Joyce

As Alpha Natural Resources looks to emerge from bankruptcy, the government is opposing the company’s plan to transfer its federal coal leases to a new company. The Department of Justice argues Alpha’s current reorganization plan doesn’t adequately address the company’s cleanup obligations.

Alpha’s plan calls for selling off its most valuable assets to a group of its creditors, who would form a new company with them. Those assets include the company's Wyoming mines, which are on federal land. 

Stephanie Joyce

A bankruptcy judge has given Alpha Natural Resources approval to move its restructuring plan to a vote, over the objections of the federal government.

The government had argued Alpha didn’t provide enough detail about various parts of the plan, including how the company plans to pay for mine reclamation, for creditors to fully evaluate it, but the bankruptcy judge disagreed.

Stephanie Joyce

The federal government has filed an objection to Alpha Natural Resources’ plan for emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Federal officials are objecting to a coal company's plan to restructure and emerge from bankruptcy, because, they say, it looks a lot more like a plan to liquidate. 

On Monday, a bankruptcy court judge has approved Alpha Natural Resource's request to cancel labor agreements and reduce retiree benefits for unionized workers. 

In court documents, Alpha writes that it is fighting to survive as the coal industry collapses. Cutting these obligations, the company argues, is necessary if it is going to restructure and get out of bankruptcy.  

 

Bankrupt coal company Alpha Natural Resources confirmed that it laid off 37 employees today from its two Powder River Basin coal mines.

These cuts follow much larger layoffs last month at two of the country's largest mines, owned by Arch Coal and Peabody Energy. Together, those companies cut around 465 jobs, or about 15%  of the workforce at Peabody's North Antelope Rochelle Mine and Arch's Black Thunder mine. 

Just a few days after hundreds of workers were laid off at two Wyoming coal mines, another company offered buyouts to some of its employees. 

Cloud Peak Energy announced last week that it is offering what's called a voluntary separation benefit. The company wouldn't give details on what's actually in the buyout but it is available to hourly employees who are either 65 years old or 55 and have been with the company for ten years.

Alpha Natural Resources is asking a bankruptcy judge for permission to cancel certain labor union agreements and to cut retiree benefits. 

 

ecowatch.com

In financial documents filed this week, one of the largest coal companies in the world warned that it may file for bankruptcy, in part, because the company may not be able to make upcoming debt payments.

Just this week, Peabody Energy missed around $70 million dollars worth of interest payments and instead chose to take advantage of a 30-day grace period. 

Alpha Natural Resources filed a plan today outlining how it hopes to emerge from bankruptcy. At the heart of the plan is a proposal to sell the company's core assets, including its Wyoming mines.

The federal government notified regulators in Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico this week that one of the world's largest coal companies may be out of compliance with coal mining regulations. 

In response to a federal inquiry about potential mining violations by bankrupt coal company Alpha Natural Resources, Wyoming regulators say they are in compliance with the law. But, regulators did note that the challenges created by "the dramatic decline in Alpha's financial condition... highlight certain systemic problems with self-bonding." Self-bonding references a financial tool that gives companies a pass on putting aside funds for clean-up if they can prove financial strength. 

The coal industry's slide continues as one of the nation's largest producers reported a loss of over $2 billion in 2015. 

Peabody Energy has extensive mining operations across the US and Australia. But its stock price plummeted in 2015 and the company’s Wyoming coal production was down around four percent from the year before. During the company's quarterly earnings call, executives broke with tradition and declined to take questions due to quote sensitive timing. Here’s CEO Glenn Kellow.

Stephanie Joyce

Bankrupt coal miner Alpha Natural Resources is hoping to put its core assets on the auction block, including its mines in Wyoming. 

A group of the company’s lenders have placed a so-called “stalking horse bid” of $500 million, effectively setting the floor for what the company would accept. Pending approval by a bankruptcy judge, Alpha could start taking bids from other interested buyers later this month.

The company doesn’t have to go through with the sale of the assets, but could if it gets a high enough bid.

The federal government has agreed to give state regulators an extension to respond to its inquiry into potential violations of mining regulations.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, OSMRE, sent two Ten-Day Notices to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality on January 21st. The notices asked the state to take a closer look at whether two bankrupt coal companies are out of compliance with federal and state mining regulations.

Stephanie Joyce

Wyoming regulators have asked for more time to respond to the federal government's concerns about potential lapses in state oversight of coal mine reclamation.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement sent two ten-day notices to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality on January 21st. The agency believes that two bankrupt coal companies, with hundreds of millions of dollars in outstanding clean up costs, could be in violation of federal mining regulations.  

A bankruptcy judge has authorized up to $12 million dollars in bonuses for executives of the bankrupt coal mining company Alpha Natural Resources.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

The federal government has come out strongly against a proposal by bankrupt coal miner Alpha Natural Resources to pay its executives up to $12 million in bonuses. 

In filings with the bankruptcy court, the United States Trustee, an arm of the Department of Justice, excoriates the proposed bonuses, saying they are completely unjustified.

 

U.S. coal production in 2015 was lower than it has been in nearly 30 years, according to a report released by the Energy Information Administration today. 

EIA data projects that the U.S. produced 10% less coal in 2015 than it did the year before. Analysts attribute this drop to a combination of low natural gas prices, a slowing of international demand, and environmental regulations. Brian Park, an industry economist on the EIA's coal statistics team says Appalachia has been hit hardest by far. Wyoming's Powder River Basin in comparison, has lower operating costs.

Duncan Harris, Flickr Creative Commons

Colorado regulators say the state is changing its approach to ensuring coal mines get cleaned up.  

The change involves self-bonding, a program that gives coal companies a pass on putting aside money for future mine clean-up, if they can pass a test of financial strength.

Even though many coal companies are struggling in a steep market downturn and some have even declared bankruptcy, many of them are still self-bonded. The problem? It's no longer clear whether those companies will actually be able to pay for future coal mine reclamation.

As Arch Coal's financial health continues to decline, Western landowner groups are raising concerns about the company's ability to clean up its mines in the future. 

The Western Organization of Resource Councils, including the Powder River Basin Resource Council, filed a formal complaint today with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality over Arch Coal's ongoing mining operations.

Alpha Natural Resources has reached an agreement with West Virginia that aims to ensure some of the bankrupt coal miner's future clean-up costs will be covered. The deal is similar to Wyoming's deal with the  company.

The agreement requires Alpha Natural Resources to put up $39 million in financial assurances for its $244 million dollars in self-bonded clean-up costs. Self-bonding is a program that gives companies a pass on putting aside money for clean-up costs if they can pass a test of financial strength.

Pages