Another closed blast furnace a warning to Range mines

U.S. Steel's Fairfield Works operation in Alabama will close under the company's new cost-cutting plan. (PHOTO: U.S. Steel)

U.S. Steel’s Fairfield Works in Alabama will close under company’s new cost-cutting plan. (PHOTO: U.S. Steel)

On Monday, U.S. Steel announced plans to close a steelmaking facility in Alabama and its accompanying blast furnace. The company said its goal is to reduce costs and improve efficiencies in its production. More than 1,100 workers are affected by this closure.

From a U.S. Steel press release:

“We have made some difficult decisions over the last year as part of our portfolio optimization,” said Mario Longhi, U. S. Steel President and CEO. “We have determined that the permanent shut-down of the Fairfield Works blast furnace, steelmaking and most of the finishing operations is necessary to improve the overall efficiency and cost structure of our flat-rolled segment.”

Under this action, the blast furnace and associated steelmaking operations will be idled.  They and the finishing operations would be permanently closed on or after Nov. 17, 2015.  The facilities that would permanently close include the blast furnace and steelmaking operations, the hot strip mill, the pickle line, cold mill, annealing facility and stretch and temper line.  The slab and rounds casters, the #5 coating line and the Double G hot-dip galvanizing joint venture in nearby Jackson, Miss. would continue to operate.  The decision does not impact Fairfield Tubular Operations or the electric arc furnace (EAF) construction project.

U.S. Steel remains the biggest user of blast furnace technology in the United States, which is locally significant because the Iron Range mining industry still produces traditional taconite pellets used in blast furnaces. Newer steel mills use electric arc furnaces that are fed with higher grade iron or even scrap metal. As we’ve written here, Range mines are now exploring value-added iron production to serve mills like this, but remain years from large-scale production.

After a long partial shutdown, U.S. Steel announced it would reopen the lines at Minntac in Mountain Iron this month. Though official word hasn’t come yet, the same is expected of Keewatin Taconite in the near future. Challenging times lie ahead, however, as complex vertically integrated companies like USS try to figure out how to navigate tumultuous commodes pricing, troublesome imports, and global markets.

Add to the list: one less facility using blast furnaces. And the biggest company on the Range — U.S. Steel — is among the least prepared for the conversion to new forms of iron products.


  1. US Steel has been dying for decades. Some of the causes are outside of its control, and some seem of its own making. Perhaps it doesn’t make much difference to those seeing their jobs evaporate….?

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