Blaschak Coal Corp., owned by Radnor-based buyout firm Milestone Partners, has hired 40 mine-equipment operators and other staff to handle higher production as its surface mines in the old Eastern Midfield anthracite field as production has increased in the past two years, and plans more hires this year, says chief executive Greg Driscoll (corrected).
Across Pennsylvania, historically the major producer of hard, smokeless anthracite coal, surface-mine production rose to 3.6 million tons in 2011, up from 3 million tons the year before, according to state data here. 
Blaschak, based in Manahony City up in Schuylkill County north of Reading, employs 150 at surface mines near Primrose, Hazleton and Centralia, and recently acquired another mine site and processing plant at Lattimer, Pa. The company's mine-run production will total 800,000 tons by year's end, up from 642,000 last year, Driscoll told me. 
This year's total works out to around 400,000 tons of market-ready prepared coal, roughly similar to production at rivals Reading Anthracite and Bruce Toll's Lehigh Anthracite, according to Driscoll.
Together the three companies account for around half of Pennsylvania's expected 2.5 milllion tons of market-ready hard coal this year, boosting revenues for coal-land owners like Toll's BET Investments and Philadelphia-based, city-run Girard Estate, the charity that operates Girard College, which has held onto anthracite fields acquired by benefactor Stephen Girard in the early 1830s.
Anthracite retails at around $400 a ton, yielding a $1 billion value for this year's production in the state.
Blaschak exports coal to Europe and South America, among its other customers. China is an increasing consumer of anthracite; while much of that market is supplied from neighboring Russia, China demand keeps prices high enough to push Pennsylvania production modestly higher in recent years.

Driscoll says a lot of hard coal is still burned in home furnaces in areas beyond the reach of urban gas lines. "That's a significant market," he told me. "We're competing with oil." At current prices he says anthracite costs one-third as much as home heating oil. 
But the industry is still just  a small fraction of the 100 million tons the state's old deep-shaft anthracite mines tunneling ridges between Scranton, Reading, Allentown and Harrisburg yielded in the peak year of 1917, back when clean-burning hard coal was a fuel of choice in East Coast factories and homes as well as metals factories, ships and war industries. Rising mine expenses and petroleum finds in Texas and Oklahoma speeded the nation's transition to liquid and gas fuels and a rapid drop in anthracite demand from the 1920s until recent years.