CHARLESTON -- Mining industry suppliers say business is booming as coal companies strive to cash in on high market prices.
During the past six months, coal prices have jumped to $50 a ton compared to $24 a ton in 1997.
Nationally, coal production is up 3.6 percent over the last 12 months. During the 12 months ending June 9, 2001, national production was 1.19 billion, compared to 1.08 billion a year ago.
In West Virginia, production is up 1.6 percent over that same period, from 117,950 million tons to 119,449 million, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration.
For three months Logan Corp. worker Terry Harrison has averaged 55 hours a week loading trucks with equipment for underground and surface mines.
For three months, Harrison and one other warehouse worker have come early and stayed late, including Saturdays, to keep pace with a spate of orders from coal customers.
Analysts give a variety of reasons for coal price increases: California's energy problems, fewer reserves at power companies and the perceived coal-friendly attitude of President Bush, The Charleston Gazette reported Sunday.
Randy Click, manager of Logan Corp.'s Charleston area warehouse, said sales have increased 15 percent to 20 percent in the past three months. "I'd say California's helping us right now," Click said.
In recent years, Logan Corp.'s warehouse has sold $10 million worth of equipment, including work gloves, mine shovel tips and computer paper. This year, Click hopes to sell up to $12 million.
Logan Corp., one of the oldest mining companies in the state, sells about $35 million in equipment from seven offices in Kentucky and West Virginia.
Clinton Curry, president of West Virginia Spring and Radiator in South Charleston, said his business has doubled since April. He sells radiators for big mining machines. Arch Coal and A.T. Massey are his biggest customers.
"They're buying a lot more equipment and they're trying to keep everything running," Curry said.
Curry said he's heard that some mines are staying open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In West Virginia in May, 16,400 coal miners were working, compared to 15,700 miners in May 2000, according to the state's Bureau of Employment Programs.
Coal companies are often locked into long-term production contracts with prices set much lower than current market prices, Curry said. "They have to honor those contracts, but any more above that, they can make twice the money," Curry said.
"They're trying to mine as much coal as they can," he said.
No one knows how long the good times will last.
Sam Duncan, chief executive officer of J.H. Fletcher in Huntington, last week received a $270,000 loan from the West Virginia Economic Development Authority for an expansion at his plant in Huntington where about 170 people work.
Duncan planned an 18,000-square-foot expansion, and could go bigger if roof bolt orders continue streaming in.
"If it would stay like it is right now, we certainly would very much look into it. But we're coming off a pretty good downer," Duncan said.
For now, workers are simply being asked to keep busy.
"We're working scheduled overtime 12 hours a week for the remainder of this year," said Gary Cline, a sales associate at J.H. Fletcher.