Safety Awards Roll In as Sales Fall at Patriot Coal Corp.

Ten of its operations received awards from the Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association, but the company also announced it has reduced its workforce this year because of weaker domestic demand.

St. Louis-based Patriot Coal Corporation announced May 7 that 10 of its operations received awards from the Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association as recognition for having the best 2011 safety records by size of operation in each of the association's councils. The company also announced its Eastern Associated Construction Crew received an Outstanding Safety Performance award for 11 years without a lost-time accident. The company's mining operations are in West Virginia and Kentucky.

Tempering the good news was Patriot's May 8 release of financial results for the first quarter of 2012, with a $75 million net loss reported as its coal production declined. Coal producers are closing mines and reducing operating shifts as electrical utility customers increasingly turn to natural gas, according to the company's earnings release. President/CEO Richard M. Whiting said Patriot has reduced thermal coal production by more than 4 million annual tons this year and has "implemented major cost reduction initiatives, and worked with our customers to better meet their changing requirements."

He said global demand for thermal coal is strong, however, and is partially offsetting weaker domestic demand.

"We have reduced the workforce at our properties by about 1,000 employees since the beginning of the year and to tighten control, we have assumed full operation of several mines and facilities formerly managed by contractors, including the entire Kanawha Eagle complex," said Patriot's senior vice president and CFO, Mark N. Schroeder. Revenues in the 2012 first quarter were $502.6 million versus $577.0 million a year earlier.

The company's operations have received nearly 50 safety awards during the past two years alone, Executive Vice President/COO Bennett K. Hatfield said.

The Holmes Safety Association is based in Arlington, Va. Its 2012 national meeting is set for June 5-7 at the Greektown Casino Hotel in Detroit.

On May 2, Walter Energy Inc. (parent of metallurgical coal producer Jim Walter Resources) said its first quarter revenue was $632 million and its production of 3 million metric tons of metallurgical cost set a record. The company said its U.S. operations reduced their total recordable injury rate by 16 percent during the first quarter of 2012 compared with the first quarter of 2011, while Canadian and UK operations reduced their total reportable injury rate by 5 percent compared with the prior year. On April 20, Walter Energy's Brule mine was awarded the Edward Prior Safety Award for 2011 by the Office of the Chief Inspector of Mines from the Ministry of Natural Resource Operations in British Columbia, Canada.

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