Alabama agency approves unusually large coal mining permit

The Alabama Surface Mining Commission on March 20 issued a mine permit for an unusually large, 2,039-acre strip job planned by Shannon LLC, an affiliate of Drummond Co., in Jefferson and Tuscaloosa counties.

It is rare for a surface mine permit in Alabama to even approach 1,000 acres, let alone exceed 2,000 acres. The area method of surface mining will be used at this operation, called Shannon Mine No. 4. Mining operations will be limited to the Upper New Castle, Lower New Castle, Mary Lee, Blue Creek and Jagger coal seams.

“Mining at the Shannon Mine No. 4 will commence within Increment No. 1 along the reclaimed highwall,” said the permit application. “Mobile equipment will be used to mine the overburden above the New Castle Coal Seam. Once the New Castle Coal Seam has been removed, the dragline will be used to mine the innerburden between the remaining coal seams. Pits will generally align in a northeast to southwest and a northwest to southeast direction with an outside turn in the highwall with advancement to the northeast.”

The mine site is about 1.3 miles northeast of the community of Abernant. Out of the 2,039 permitted acres, about 1,913 will be mining area and 126 acres will be coal stockpiles, haulroads, basins, drainage courses and access roads.

Previous mining has occurred within and adjacent to the proposed permit area and includes pre-law surface disturbance, permanent program surface disturbance and underground mines. Approximately 1,250 acres within the permit area have been previously disturbed by pre-1977 surface mining law operators.

Alabama Land & Mineral Corp.’s Shannon mine, the Oswayo #3 mine, Oswayo #4 mine, Area 6 mine and Shannon LLC’s Shannon mine lie within the boundaries of the Shannon Mine No. 4. Both the old Shannon and Sumter underground mines within the site were in the Blue Creek seam.

The overburden above the Upper New Castle seam ranges between 113 to 353 feet, the innerburden between the Upper New Castle and Lower New Castle ranges between 30 to 46 feet, the innerburden between the Lower New Castle and the Blue Creek ranges between 35 to 84 feet, the innerburden between the Blue Creek and Lower Blue Creek ranges between 3 to 17 feet, and the innerburden between the Blue Creek and Jagger seams ranges between 18 and 48 feet within the permit area.

The thickness of the Upper New Castle seam averages about 14 inches, the Lower New Castle seam averages 38 inches thick, the Blue Creek seam (where still present) averages 84 inches, the Lower Blue Creek seam averages 15 inches thick and the Jagger seam averages 30 inches. The Upper New Castle, Lower New Castle, Mary Lee and Jagger seams are solid within the permit area. Only pillars of Blue Creek coal that were not recovered by the previous underground mining operations will be surface mined at this site.

The seam thicknesses and the innerburden measurements are key metrics when calculating mining costs.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration shows Shannon LLC as controlled by Twin Pines LLC. The only operation listed with the agency under Shannon LLC is the Shannon strip job in Tuscaloosa County, which produced 1.5 million tons in 2011, up sharply from 990,958 tons in 2010.

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining database shows that Shannon LLC is 100% owned by Twin Pines LLC, that Twin Pines is 100% owned by Marigold Land LLC, and that Marigold Land is 100% owned by Drummond Co., a prominent coal producer in both Alabama and Colombia.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.