Oak Grove Mine

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The Oak Grove Mine is an underground coal mine located in Oak Grove in western Jefferson County extracting coking coal from the Blue Creek seam of the Warrior coal field. The mine produces a very low-sulfur coal used in coking operations in steel production.

The 55-inch seam is mined using the longwall method by use of an electrically-powered shearing machine and haulage system manufactured by Joy Mining Co. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The coal is transferred by conveyor to the Concord Preparation Plant just west of Hueytown and transported from there by rail, barge or truck. Exports are from the Port of Mobile.

The Oak Grove Mine was opened in 1975 by U.S. Steel. An underground explosion occurred in a sealed section of the mine in April 1994. The area was re-sealed, but experienced more violent explosions in January 1995 and April 1996. Investigators concluded that boring for methane production and ventilation pressure differentials could have led to air mixtures that could be ignited by lightning strikes.

U.S. Steel installed a precision gas monitoring system was installed at Oak Grove. During the period from 1998 to 2002, on-site "Total Environmental Releases" from Oak Grove Mine reported by the Toxins Release Inventory included 165,133 pounds of lead compounds, 7,294 pounds of barium compounds, and 259 pounds of mercury compounds. Releases to the environment decreased by 83% during that time.

In 2003 former coal miner Benjamin Statler acquired the Oak Grove Mine and a West Virginia mine for just over $50 million raised from Questor Management of Southfield, Michigan. He incorporated PinnOak Resources in Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania, with Oak Grove Resources as its Alabama subsidiary. In 2006 Oak Grove was the fourth-largest of 9 underground coal mines in Alabama, and employed about 280 workers. The miners are represented by the United Mine Workers of America Local 2133.

PinnOak installed a 42" slope conveyor, increasing capacity by 40%. They also initiated use of a combination miner and roof bolter which allowed both operations to proceed simultaneously, and implemented systems designed to recover more fine coal than was previously salvaged. They also purchased an underground resource tracking and communication system in 2005.

On March 7, 2006 the UMWA called for a one day work-stoppage for miners to picket the Alabama capitol for better safety regulations and enforcement at coal mines in the state. This action followed an explosion at the Shoal Creek Mine and evacuation of the Oak Grove mine by Federal inspectors in February due to build-up of methane gas in the mine. During 2005, PinnOak was fined $476,561 for safety violations at Oak Grove.

In September 2006 PinnOak cut 89 jobs at the mine, leaving about 240 at the site, a number which grew over the next year to about 280. During the first half of 2007 the mine was cited 415 times for safety violations. On June 14, 2007 the Mine Safety and Health Administration named Oak Grove as one of eight mining operations nationwide with "a potential pattern of violations of mandatory health or safety standards."

Later that year PinnOak was acquired by Cliffs Natural Resources (formerly Cleveland-Cliffs) and operated as CLF PinnOak LLC. The Oak Grove Mine had been expected to close between 2013 and 2016, but did not. Instead, the company expanded its holdings in the fall of 2008 by purchasing 1,000 acres of adjacent land from U.S. Steel.

On May 22, 2008 motorman Lee Edward Graham, 64, was killed in an underground accident, possibly while investigating a mining car derailment. In April 2009 Cliffs laid off 65 workers at the mine.

In 2015 federal officials ordered the mine site to be evacuated due to dangerous levels of methane gas. Another 220 workers, approximately half the work force, were laid off in November of that year. In December Cliffs exited the coal business and sold its mines to Seneca Coal Resources, an affiliate of the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund owned by Tom Clarke. It continued to operate the mine under the Oak Grove Resources name.

In October 2016 Oak Grove Mine became the first in the United States to purchase longwall shields from the People's Republic of China. On December 2, 2016 Yujun Qian, 36, a designer and engineer for Zhengzhou Coal Mining Machinery, was killed in the mine when the shield collapsed around him during testing. As part of the investigation, the MSHA reported that the mine was then producing approximately 824 tons of coal per day, along with 3,774,681 cubic feet of methane every 24 hours. Over the course of that year, the MSHA cited the company for 314 violations, with more than 100 of them deemed "significant and substantial," and assessed $265,932 in penalties. For the year, Oak Grove Mine produced 1.5 million tons of coal while liberating 7.5 million cubic feet of methane per day, of which 4.2 million cubic feet was vented to the atmosphere per day and the remainder drained from the mine with degasification systems.

By 2017 the company employed more than 400 workers. In June of that year an underground rail accident in the mine killed miner Marius "Slick" Shepherd and injured another worker.

In January 2018 Seneca Coal Resources and Seminole Coal Resources were reorganized as Mission Coal, headquartered in Kingsport, Tennessee. That company reported investing $28 million in upgrades to the mine operations, but also claimed "adverse mining conditions and rail/port disruptions", including reduced services from Norfolk Southern, for affecting its production.

Mission Coal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in May. The case, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama and assigned to Judge Tamara Mitchell, involved joint resolution of claims involving numerous corporate entities, and listed the UMWA Health and Retirement Funds and Alabama Power Company among its top creditors, with $9.73 million and $1.95 million in unpaid debts, respectively. The company attempted to set a floor of $145 million for the sale of its Maple Eagle and Oak Grove facilities. In May 2019 the company accepted a $43.6 million bid from Robert Murray's Murray Energy Corp. (MEC) for its Alabama and West Virginia mine complexes.

Murray Energy, rebranded as American Consolidated Natural Resources of Saint Clairsville, Ohio, operates the Oak Grove Mine through Crimson Oak Grove Resources, a division of its Hatfield Metallurgical Holdings subsidiary.

In July 2023 Oak Grove Memorial Park, on the former site of Oak Grove School, was closed due to the danger of subsidence or methane releases due to mine activities below it. The Oak Grove Quick Mart removed its below-ground fuel tanks, and Oak Grove First Baptist Church closed for a year.

In March 2024 a home located directly above active longwall mining operations south of Adger exploded. William Griffice died from injuries suffered in the blast. His family filed a civil lawsuit. Officials from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) have issued dozens of citations against the company since the explosion.

UMWA Local 2133 signed a new contract with Crimson Oak Grove in May 2024, negotiating increases in wages and paid time off.

Mine production by year

year  coal produced  methane emitted

2002 |     1.9     |      5.1       |  
2003 |     1.7     |      8.5       |  
2004 |     1.5     |     10.0       |  
2005 |     1.7     |      7.3       |  
2006 |     1.4     |      6.7       |  
2007 |     1.0     |      7.5       |  
2008 |     0.9     |      6.9       |  
2009 |     0.8     |      7.5       |  
2010 |     0.9     |      7.3       |  
2011 |     0.5     |      7.3       |  
2012 |     2.2     |      4.2       |  
2013 |     2.3     |      5.2       |  
2014 |     2.3     |      6.1       |  
2015 |     2.0     |      6.3       |  
2016 |     1.5     |      4.2       |  
* coal in millions of short tons for the year
** methane in millions of cubic feet per day


  • Scott D.S. & C. R. Stephan (1997) "Accident investigation report (underground coal mine). Noninjury methane explosion. Oak Grove mine (I.D. No. 01–00851), U.S. Steel Mining Company L.L.C., Adger, Jefferson County, Alabama, July 9, 1997." U.S. Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration
  • U.S. Steel (April 10, 2002) "U.S. Steel to Sell Assets of Mining Company". press release - accessed March 26, 2006
  • "U.S. Steel Sells W. Va., Ala. Coal Mines." (June 30, 2003) Midland Daily News
  • Pederson, Paul & Clay Dennison (March 20, 2006) "'Safety now!' say Alabama miners". The Militant. - accessed March 26, 2006
  • Hubbard, Russell (September 14, 2006) "Oak Grove mine cuts 89 jobs". The Birmingham News
  • Hubbard, Russell (June 15, 2007) "Mine cited on safety is sold." The Birmingham News
  • Oberholzer, Kristin (May 23, 2008) "Miner identified in fatal Oak Grove accident." The Birmingham News
  • Cooper, Lauren B. (October 31, 2008) "Cliffs Natural Resources purchases 1,000 acres in Adger." Birmingham Business Journal
  • "Cliffs Natural Resources concludes sale of US coal mines to Seneca Coal Resources." (December 22, 2015) Mining Technology
  • Spencer, Naomi (July 1, 2017) "Two US coal miners killed in June." World Socialist Web Site - accessed May 2, 2024
  • Godwin, Tyler (October 15, 2018) "US coal miner Mission Coal files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy." S & P Global - accessed May 2, 2024
  • U.S. EPA Coalbed Methane Outreach Program (July 2019) "Opportunities for Methane Recovery at U.S. Coal Mines: Profiles of Selected Gassy Underground Coal Mines." EPA 430-K-18-001
  • Hedgepeth, Lee (April 15, 2024) "Residents living over Jefferson County mine want answers after home explosion leads to death." Inside Climate News
  • Hedgepeth, Lee & James Bruggers (April 25, 2024) "Alabama Coal Mine Keeps Digging Under A Rural Community After Hundreds of Fines and a Fatal Explosion. Residents Are Rattled." Inside Climate News
  • Thornton, William (May 7, 2024) "Union ratifies new contract with Alabama coal mine." AL.com

External link