The Belle Ayr Mine seen on Google Earth (Google Earth)

By 10:30 a.m. Tuesday more than 100 miners had visited the Gillette office of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services after Blackjewel LLC shuttered two coal mines yesterday, the office manager said. 

Meanwhile, the mines were completely empty of Blackjewel employees on Wednesday morning, a spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality said. The agency sent inspectors to the mines to check for environmental, fire and safety hazards after Blackjewel abandoned the locations yesterday afternoon, DEQ spokesperson Keith Guille said. 

“There’s no one at those mines” Guille said. The Campbell County Sheriff’s Department sent deputies to guard the properties, he said. The department referred WyoFile to an officer who did not immediately return a telephone call seeking information.

The company laid off close to 600 workers, according to news accounts yesterday. Approximately 580 people work at the Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines, according to data from the Wyoming State Geological Survey released in April. Owners closed both yesterday. Blackjewel’s owner told the Casper Star-Tribune that 700 employees were affected.

DEQ inspectors will visit the mines “to make sure that if there are any potential hazards there that we’re assessing those,” Guille said. “The last thing we need to have happen is some kind of big environmental impact because there’s no one at those mines.”

Blackjewel’s Wyoming operations are part of a sprawling eastern-based coal operation owned by businessman Jeffrey Hoops. The company filed for bankruptcy yesterday morning in a West Virginia court. By day’s end, Blackjewel had sent its employees home and closed the mines. Company CEO Jeffrey Hoops told the Star-Tribune the mines “are out of order until further notice,” after his company failed to secure fresh financing to continue operations.  

Campbell County will likely reel from the loss of hundreds of jobs and brace for a ripple effect in decreased economic spending in an area where the economy is largely based on coal mining.

The first laid off workers started showing up at the Gillette office of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services within a half hour of the mine closure, center manager Rick Mansheim said. By midmorning on Tuesday his office had helped more than 100 miners sign up for unemployment payments and begin looking for new jobs, he said. 

Miners can get up to six months of unemployment payments, Mansheim said, the amount of which is based on a percentage of salary.

“We expect a steady flow,” Mansheim said. The office has extended its business hours for the day and the state agency is routing staff from elsewhere to Gillette.

The 600 or so layoffs may be the largest blow to Wyoming’s coal mining community yet. In March of 2016, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal cut 465 miners between them. This layoff is not only larger, Mansheim said, but also more shocking. 

The main difference between the two was then people kind of knew it was coming,” Mansheim said. Miners arriving at his office now are asking “oh my gosh, what do I do now?” he said. 

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Blackjewel’s bankruptcy will impact more than Campbell County. The company went bankrupt with monstrous tax debts unpaid, according to the company’s filing.

Blackjewel owes $37 million in taxes to Campbell County, the filing states. Much of that is distributed throughout the state and funds public education. The company also owes $11.6 million to the Wyoming Department of Revenue. 

In addition, Blackjewel owes $60 million in Federal Mineral Royalties to the U.S. Government. Roughly half of those royalties are transferred back to the states where the minerals are produced — meaning Wyoming government officials would be worried about $30 million.

Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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  1. This is why we need escrow laws to pay for reclamation. It’s getting bad and we as tax payers have to pay more to get our state back to the way it was.