The following data and article is the result of collaboration between West Virginia Public Broadcasting and SNL Energy. To see related stories from SNL Energy on this topic, please click here.
As demand for coal decreases because of cheap prices of natural gas, employment in coal mines continues to fall in West Virginia and across Central Appalachia. Since the fourth quarter of 2011, nearly 7,000 coal mining jobs have been cut in West Virginia and six of the state's counties are in the top 25 counties for coal mining job losses nationwide, according to data provided by SNL Energy.
Quick Facts on West Virginia Coal Mining Production & Employment
- Production of coal in West Virginia has dropped from 33,692,338 tons in the fourth quarter of 2011 down to 28,351,854 tons in the first quarter of 2015.
- Kentucky leads the nation in coal mine employment losses since the fourth quarter of 2011 with 7,666 job losses (West Virginia is second on that list with 6,700).
- Boone County's 2,698 job losses (representing a 58% loss of employment since the fourth quarter of 2011) tops the nation in coal mine job losses by county.
- Aside from Boone, Mingo (801), Fayette (609), Nicholas (558), Logan (557), McDowell (512) and Raleigh (403) counties are all in the top 25 counties for coal mine job losses.
- Nicholas County's 558 job losses since the fourth quarter of 2011 represent a 76% drop in coal mining employment.
While coal mining employment seemed to parallel production in West Virginia until mid-2013, layoffs have continued to occur more rapidly, despite the fact that production has leveled off in recent quarters.
Understandably, fears over more layoffs continue in southern West Virginia.
“I’d say that I’ll get laid off. I’d say the job will probably shut down. That’s just the way it is," said 27-year-old Jordan Bridges of Logan County.
"You can’t keep selling coal [if] you mine it for $40 a ton, but you’re only selling it for $37. They’re not making no money, we’re not making no money,” he said.
More from SNL Energy: 'Societal depression' settles over coalfields as layoffs rockCentral Appalachia
Despite overall job losses in the state and the high concentration of layoffs in West Virginia's southern coalfields, some counties in the north central and northern panhandle regions have seen increases. Still yet, finding work after coal mining remains difficult for those in the southern coalfields and many want to stay.
“I have friends that don’t want to leave. But what are they supposed to do. They were raised here. I was raised here. We want to raise our kids here," said Bridges.
Editor's Note: SNL Energy's analysis of the data is gleaned from coal companies' reports to MSHA about how many employees, on average throughout the quarter, worked at individual coal mines. The data does not include contractors. Mines that had not yet reported to MSHA for the first quarter are excluded from both the current and historical totals.