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Rosebud Mine

The Rosebud Mine is seen in a 2014 photo.

Montana coal mining was on a 2 million-ton upswing through the first three quarters of the year, despite a challenging economy.

Coal production through the end of September was at 27.6 million tons, a 7 percent increase from the same period in 2017, said Bud Clinch, Montana Coal Council executive director.

The uptick comes as the largest coal companies in the state struggle economically. Westmoreland Coal Co., which operates the Absaloka and Rosebud mines, filed for bankruptcy in early October, then informed the court it would auction off Rosebud and other assets in the coming months.

Cloud Peak Energy announced Tuesday that it would consider selling its operations, including Spring Creek Mine and its development rights to the Big Metal Mine project benefiting the Crow Indian Tribe. Both Spring Creek and Big Metal are in southeast Montana.

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Coal production was up in the third quarter at Rosebud Mine, which feeds Colstrip power plant, but down for the year. Spring Creek production was also up 500,000 tons. What damaged Cloud Peak production was a wet spring, which had crews fighting standing water at the company’s Antelope Mine in Wyoming.

Demand for Cloud Peak coal in the Asia Pacific is strong, the company indicated in its third-quarter report. Cloud Peak expects to export 5.5 million tons of coal this year, much of it coming from Spring Creek, which benefits from being closer to a Canadian coal shipping port.

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