Warrior Met Coal to relaunch Blue Creek longwall mine

Warrior Met Coal says it is relaunching the development of its Blue Creek reserves into a new, world-class longwall mine located in Alabama, USA, near its existing mines.

Once completed, this investment will reinforce Warrior’s position as the premier US pure-play producer of premium metallurgical coal products that are sought by customers throughout the global steel industry, it said.

Previously, the company had delayed the development of the Blue Creek reserves due to the uncertainty of COVID-19, as well as market conditions and the labour strike. As market conditions have significantly improved and the company’s cash generation and cash on hand have significantly increased, the company has decided now to move forward with the development, it said.

Since the initial announcement, inflation in steel and other commodity prices, including labour costs, have increased the total capital spending requirements of the project. However, during a refresh of the project, the company has identified potential production increases of approximately 10% and anticipates being able to accelerate the start of longwall production by approximately 15 months based on design modifications and projected stronger available liquidity to fund the project. Based on an assumed met coal price of $150/t, the projected net present value (NPV) is approximately $1 billion over the life of the mine with a projected after-tax internal rate of return (IRR) of nearly 30% and an expected payback of approximately two years from initial longwall production, the company said.

“We are extremely excited about this organic growth project, which will transform Warrior and allow us to build upon our proven track record of creating value for stockholders,” Walt Scheller, CEO of Warrior, said. “Blue Creek is truly a world-class asset and our commitment to this new initiative demonstrates our continued, highly focused business strategy as a premium pure-play met coal producer.”

The Blue Creek development will be a single longwall mine and is expected to have the capacity to produce an average of 4.8 million short tons per annum (mstpa) of premium High-Vol A met coal over the first 10 years of production. It is one of the last remaining large-scale, untapped premium High Vol A met coal reserves in the US, according to the company.

Once fully developed, the company expects Blue Creek to increase Warrior’s annual production capacity by 60% and expand its product portfolio to its global customers, by offering three premium hard coking coals that are expected to achieve the highest premium met coal prices in the seaborne markets. Warrior controls approximately 70 million short tons of recoverable reserves and 49 million short tons of resources at Blue Creek, which totals to over 119 million short tons. Warrior has the ability to acquire adjacent reserves that would increase total recoverable reserves at the mine, it says. The inclusion of all coal reserves, resources and adjacent properties would extend the life of mine reserves to approximately 170 million short tons. Under this expanded mine plan, Blue Creek is expected to have a mine life of approximately 50 years assuming a single longwall operation.

The company’s third-party reserve report indicates that Blue Creek would produce a premium High Vol A metallurgical coal that will differentiate itself from the industry benchmark with lower sulphur and higher coke strength after reaction (CSR). High Vol A has historically priced at a slight discount to the Australian Premium and US Low Vol coals, and that trend has continued over the last two years, it explained. Warrior expects High Vol A coals will continue to become increasingly scarce as a result of Central Appalachian producers mining thinner and deeper reserves, which is expected to continue to support this pricing level.

Likewise, Warrior expects premium hard coking coals to become even more highly valued by customers due to their blending characteristics and ability to improve coke oven efficiency. Warrior believes this creates an opportunity for Blue Creek to take advantage of favourable pricing dynamics driven by the declining supply of premium High Vol A coals.

Blue Creek’s estimated production cost per short ton is expected to be in the first quartile of the US and global seaborne hard coking coal cost curve and to be approximately 30-35% lower than Warrior’s existing mines today.

Warrior expects to invest approximately $650 to $700 million over the next five years to develop Blue Creek with expected spending in 2022 of approximately $45 million to begin the project. Based on the current schedule, Warrior expects the first development tonnes from continuous miner units to occur in the September quarter of 2024 with the longwall scheduled to start up in the June quarter of 2026.

Warrior’s strong cash flow generation and current available liquidity, as well as the ability to finance $120 – $130 million of capital expenditures through equipment leases, allows the company to be opportunistic as it evaluates funding options for Blue Creek with the goal of maintaining an efficient and low-cost capital structure.