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Utah's largest coal mining company, Canyon Fuel Co., has been sold by the St. Louis-based conglomerate Arch Coal Inc. for $435 million to Bowie Resources, LLC, a mining firm from Kentucky with operations in Paonia, Colo.

In an announcement Friday, Bowie Resources said it plans to "keep the existing 725-person workforce in place at the Canyon Fuel operations," which consist of the Sufco mine in Sevier County, the Dugout Canyon mine in Carbon County and the Skyline mine on the Emery/Carbon county border.

Together, the three mines produced more than 9 million tons of coal in 2012, 53 percent of the state's 16.85 million-ton total. The production pace at the three mines picked up slightly in the first quarter of this year. Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration records put the mines' output for the three-month period at almost 2.6 million tons, ahead of last year's pace.

"Sufco is extremely important to Sevier County," said County Commission Chairman Gary Mason, who was relieved to learn the workforce would remain intact after having heard rumors for a week of an impending ownership change.

"Between Sufco and the trucking companies that haul their coal, it's close to 30 percent of the county's tax base," he added. "Anything that happens up there is critical to us."

"Our goal has been to establish a core business rooted in the [Intermountain West] and to grow it, not only organically but with synergistic acquisitions," said John Siegel, a principal owner of Bowie, whose Bowie No. 2 mine in Paonia produced 3.4 million tons of coal in 2012, its largest amount since peaking at 5.5 million tons in 2007. The mine employed 355 at the end of March, MSHA reported.

Arch Coal President John Eaves praised Canyon Fuel's employees "for their significant contributions to Arch's success over the past 15 years, including upholding exemplary safety and stewardship practices."

He felt confident turning over the Utah operations to Bowie because it has a long history in the area, "deep knowledge and experience in serving the region's customer base and is well positioned to manage the opportunities and challenges associated with mining in Utah."

Bowie's Colorado mine has an injury incidence rate in the first quarter that exceeds the national average. Four work-related injures were reported during the quarter. But in the 10 years before that , Bowie's incidence rate was far below the national average, MSHA records show.

Canyon Fuel's three mines also have far fewer accidents than mines nationally, the data also show.

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