The Cliffs Logan County Coal LLC unit of Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE: CLF) is seeking a Section 404 Clean Water Act permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the surface impacts of the Eagle No. 1 deep mine in Wyoming County, W.Va.
The Corps office in Huntington, W.Va., is taking public comment on the application until July 30.
The project site is about 2 miles northwest of Cyclone in Wyoming County. The 17.2-acre surface area of the mine would be built in an unnamed tributary of Toney Fork. Fill material would be dumped into three stream channels within Corps jurisdiction related to a face-up area in the Eagle coal seam, one temporary valley fill and one in-stream sediment pond. The temporary valley fill would create a level area for deep mine support facilities, including a bath house, mine office and conveyor belt. The temporary fill would be removed after the approximate 13-year life of this operation.
Cliffs Logan County Coal looked at four alternative mining methods for this coal reserve, including surface contour mining, contour/auger/highwall mining, mountaintop surface mining and underground mining. The underground mining was considered the only viable method, the Corps noted.
As part of its compensatory mitigation plan, the company plans to re-establish 1,392 linear feet of streams previously impacted by pre-law mining, with this work to be done in a hollow on Elklick Branch about 3.5 miles north of the proposed mine face-up area. Compensatory mitigation is especially important considering that environmental groups give these permit applications close scrutiny, and often appeal the biggest ones into federal court. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a cooperating agency in the Corps review process, has also taken a tougher approach to this permitting under the Obama Administration.
Cliffs Logan County pursuing three state mine permits
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection database shows that the mine permit application for Eagle No. 1 (#U501311) is one of three applications for mine permits pending with that agency. The others are:
- a May 2009 application for the 764-acre Toney Fork No. 3 surface job in Boone County; and
- a December 2010 application on the 711-acre Elklick surface mine along the Boone/Logan county line.
Said the Feb. 16 annual Form 10-K report of Cliffs Natural Resources: “Cliffs Logan County Coal (CLCC) property is located within Boone, Logan and Wyoming counties in southern West Virginia. CLCC currently produces metallurgical and thermal coal from surface and underground mines that are served by a preparation plant and unit-train load out facility on the CSXT. Two underground mines, the Powellton No. 1 and Dingess-Chilton Mines, produce high-volatile metallurgical coal using room and pillar retreat mining methods using continuous miner equipment. The Toney Fork No. 2 surface mine, produces thermal coal with a combination of contour strip area mining and point removal methods.”
The Form 10-K added: “The Powellton and Dingess-Chilton mines have been in operation since 2008. Over the past four years, the Powellton mine has produced between 0.1 million and 0.7 million tons of coal annually and the Dingess-Chilton mine production has ranged from no production to 0.6 million tons of coal annually due to the ramp-up to full production. The Toney Fork No. 2 mine has been in operation since 2005. Over the past four years, the Toney Fork No. 2 mine has produced between 1.2 million and 1.5 million tons of coal annually. The Lower War Eagle and Elklick Chilton mines currently are under development and expected to produce approximately 0.2 million tons and 0.1 million tons, respectively, in 2012.”
Besides the Saunders prep plant and Elk Lick tipple, Cliffs Logan County Coal has four deep mines (Powellton #1, Dingess Chilton, Lower War Eagle and Elklick Chilton No. 1) and one strip job (Toney Fork) listed with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. All are classified by MSHA as “active,” except for Elklick Chilton No. 1, which is listed as a new mine with no recorded production yet. Lower War Eagle produced its initial coal (173 tons) in the third quarter of 2011, MSHA data shows.