On May 14, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management office in Colorado released for public comment a preliminary environmental assessment and unsigned finding of no significant impact regarding Oxbow Mining LLC’s exploration application for reserves for the possible new Oak Mesa deep mine, located near but not contiguous to Oxbow’s Elk Creek longwall mine.
The proposed Oak Mesa project extends from the edge of the Bowie Resources holdings westward across the mesa to the Leroux Creek area, encompassing about 13,873 acres, north of Hotchkiss. “The Oak Mesa Project is adjacent to existing coal leases in an area of known coal reserves,” said Barb Sharrow, BLM Uncompahgre Field Office Manager. “Coal exploration drilling is needed to determine seam reserve availability for possible development of a new underground coal mine in Delta County.”
Oxbow’s application proposes 43 exploration drill holes on private and federal lands into federal subsurface holdings on 13,873 acres. The drill holes would be completed from 0.5 acre drill pads, to a depth of 220 to 2,249 feet, depending on the location of each drill hole. Most temporary surface disturbances would occur on about 33 acres. Wherever possible existing ground disturbance would be used for drilling sites and construction activities would be limited to clearing and removal of large boulders. Exploration activities would begin with issuance of the license and would be completed within two years after authorization.
The proposed exploration area is located in the southern edge of the Piceance Basin of western Colorado. The area is underlain by coal-bearing strata in several of the Cretaceous formations, the most significant of which economically is coal in the Upper Cretaceous Mesaverde Formation. Of particular interest in the proposed exploration area are coal beds stratigraphically above the Rollins Sandstone Member of the Mesaverde Formation.
Three longwall mines in the area – Bowie No. 2 of Bowie Resources, West Elk of Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI), and Elk Creek of Oxbow Mining – are currently active. In addition, Bowie No. 1 is permitted, but idle. The North Fork Branch of the Union Pacific Railroad operates exclusively to serve these coal mines and would also serve Oak Mesa.