Reading Anthracite

HISTORIC SCHUYLKILL COUNTY FIRM IS ONE OF PENNSYLVANIA’S ENERGY-INDUSTRY LEADERS

Jan 13, 2014

Komatsu PC4000 - productive and reliable machine

With a history that dates back to within a few years of the Civil War (when it was part of Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Co.), Reading Anthracite Company is one of Pennsylvania’s pioneering coal companies. Through the years, it’s remained a leader by always staying on the cutting edge of technological developments, safety initiatives and environmental considerations regarding the coal-mining industry.

Headquartered in Pottsville, Pa., in Schuylkill County, Reading Anthracite today is one of the Rich Family of Companies – a wide-ranging group of east-central Pennsylvania businesses, most of which are affiliated with the energy industry. Brothers John Rich Jr. (Chairman), Brian Rich (President) and Michael Rich (Vice President) oversee the companies today. Except for a period of time in the 1990s, the Rich family has been involved with Reading Anthracite since the 1930s.

“My grandfather came over here from Italy and started working at Reading Anthracite,” said President Brian Rich. “Eventually, he was able to buy the company. The Reading Anthracite coal mines and processing plants are the backbone of our businesses. It’s a high quality coal, and we have excellent reserves.”

Reading Anthracite is a regional and global supplier of coal. A majority of the product is shipped overseas (Europe, Asia and Latin America), largely for steelmaking, but much of it is also consumed locally by power-generation plants to provide electricity to more than 165,000 homes in Schuylkill and Berks counties.

According to its intended use, Reading Anthracite processes and blends its coal to very demanding standards at one of its three processing plants.

“Depending on what mine it comes from, or even what seam, coal has different characteristics, so we monitor and analyze all of our raw coal at the mines,” said Frank Derrick, General Manager. “We test for volatility, sulfur, ash and many other characteristics.”

“Based on those characteristics, we’re able to blend the coal to create the exact product that a customer wants,” said Leonard Hapse, Plant Superintendent at Reading Anthracite’s fine-coal prep plant. “We do real-time sampling and analysis twice a day in our plants to ensure that we’re meeting quality requirements and standards.”

Coal mining

Reading Anthracite has 11 active coal mines, all in or near Schuylkill County. The company’s goal is to annually produce and sell 500,000 to 600,000 tons of processed, clean coal. To reach that number, it needs about double that amount – around 1 million tons – of nonprocessed, run-of-mine (ROM) coal from its mines.

Reading Anthracite’s newest mine, West Spring Energy in Locust Gap, is one of the company’s largest mining operations. It will produce about 250,000 to 300,000 ROM tons this year, which will require moving around 4-million-cubic-yards of overburden material. The company’s Wadesville Pit generates numbers similar to West Spring Energy.

Coal seams can range from as little as a foot up to 25-feet or so at the West Spring Energy Mine. One vein in Wadesville was up to 80-feet thick.

“The thickness of seams can vary widely,” said Mark Pishock, General Manager of West Spring Energy. “Obviously, we prefer thicker seams because that’s where the money is. We can successfully mine at a ratio of 15-1 (overburden to coal), which is roughly where we are right now at West Spring. A ratio of 12-1 or 10-1 is much better – more profitable – and we think we’ll get to that level as we progress in this mine.”

“All of these properties have been mined previously, so most of the easy-to-get coal has already been taken out,” said Brian Rich. “Today, we have to work harder to get less of it. The good news is, we have an experienced work force of professional miners. That work force, along with a highly productive fleet of equipment, are certainly keys to our mining success.”

Komatsu PC4000s and Midlantic support

Both West Spring and Wadesville have new Komatsu PC4000 mining shovels with 29-yard buckets for earthmoving. Reading Anthracite also has a third, older model PC4000 at another mine.

“The mining process for us starts with taking off the top layer of material, which can be as much as 20- to 30-feet of material,” said Pishock. “As we get into harder rock, we drill and blast and use the PC4000 to dig and load that material, as well as any other remaining overburden, right down to the coal seam. When we get down to the coal, we bring in a smaller excavator to dig it.

“We’ve had a PC4000 at West Spring since January 1, 2012, so about two years,” he added. “We run it 11 shifts per week, and availability has been about 95 percent, which is outstanding. It’s a highly productive machine and our operators like how comfortable it is.”

While Reading Anthracite is still fairly new to Komatsu shovels, the company has used Demag machines (which Komatsu acquired) for many years. “We still have several Demags in use,” said President Brian Rich. “I think the fact that we had gotten good production and longevity out of the Demags gave us confidence that the Komatsus would perform at least as well. And that’s been the case. From what we’ve seen, I’d say Komatsu has upgraded the shovels significantly from a technological standpoint. The new units have been very reliable.”

In addition to PC4000s, Reading Anthracite also has Komatsu HM350 and HM400 articulated haul trucks to transport coal out of the pit, as well as a WA380 wheel loader at Rich Family of Companies’ WMPI processing plant.

“Our guys like the Komatsu trucks a lot,” said Pishock. “We have another brand too, but when we surveyed our operators, they preferred the Komatsu HM trucks, which they thought had better functionality and a better overall ride.”

The Reading Anthracite mines have worked closely with Midlantic’s new branch in Frackville to stock the parts needed to keep the Komatsu units up and running.

“Service from Midlantic has been very good, led by our Sales Rep Gary Reish,” reported Pishock. “They have a knowledgeable staff. Technician Barry Littleford does an excellent job for us. Komatsu Mining has also been helpful.”

“Midlantic opening its facility in Frackville to stock parts for the mines in this region was important as a way to help us keep downtime to a minimum,” added Brian Rich. “We appreciate that they took that step because it shows they’re working hard to be a good partner for us.”

Owners and employees work together

Decades of coal reserves lie in Schuylkill County. Beyond that, Reading Anthracite is always looking ahead. The company actively encourages and/or is involved in alternative energy projects including wind, coal-to-liquids and biomass.

“Reading Anthracite has been an industry leader for many years and has laid a strong foundation,” said Pishock. “The foresight of the owners is probably the primary factor in the company’s long-term success. They look to the future and are willing to change and add and do whatever it takes to be a leader in the energy-production field. They’re also willing to provide employees with the resources they need to do a good job.

“Right now, coal prices aren’t great, but I’d say we remain cautiously optimistic about the future,” said Reading Anthracite President Brian Rich. “We have high quality coal and we’re a reliable supplier for our customers. And again, the main reason we’re reliable is because of the people who work here.

“Individually, our employees have good skills, but even more important is how well they work together,” he added., “They’re interested in the overall success of our company. We try to encourage that with rewards programs occasionally, but mostly, it’s a matter of having good people who take pride in their work and appreciate having a good job. As long as we’re able to keep a workforce like that, I think the future here is bright.”