MORGANTOWN - Two U.S. senators say they'll be watching closely to see how Ohio-based Murray Energy treats both safety and the 2,800 employees at the five West Virginia coal mines it is buying from CONSOL Energy.
Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., have requested a meeting with Murray Energy to discuss the transition.
Manchin called CONSOL "an industry leader in mine safety, as well as a community-minded company."
"I have looked to CONSOL to set the gold corporate standard in mining conditions," he said in a news release, "and I can only hope that Murray Energy will follow in CONSOL's footsteps to put our miners first."
The companies announced the deal Monday for the sale of the Blacksville No. 2, Loveridge, McElroy, Robinson Run and Shoemaker mines.
Pennsylvania-based CONSOL said it wants to shift resources to natural gas development and the overseas sale of coal, while getting out of the stable but low-growth steam coal business. Murray Energy, meanwhile, will be better positioned to supply its coal-fired power plant customers.
Murray Energy owned the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah when it collapsed in 2007 and killed nine people, including three rescuers. Six miners remain permanently entombed.
Robert Murray, chairman of Murray Energy, said Monday that his company "operates safe coal mines, with a particular emphasis on fire protection."
Rockefeller said Murray Energy must make protecting workers and retirees a priority.
The West Virginia mines employ some 2,800 workers, and the United Mine Workers of America says its contracts will remain in force under new ownership. The deal also affects some 23,000 retirees, dependents and surviving spouses.
The transaction also includes river and dock operations with a fleet of 600 barges and 21 towboats, and it gives Murray Energy about 1.1 billion tons of coal reserves.
CONSOL said it is keeping its flagship Buchanan Mine in Virginia, the Miller Creek Mining Complex in southern West Virginia and its low-cost Pennsylvania operations, the Bailey, Enlow Fork and soon-to-be-completed BMX mines.