Forest Service to augment final EIS on new Sufco coal tract

The U.S. Forest Service plans to write a supplemental environmental impact statement for the Greens Hollow coal reserve in Utah, delaying a bit the eventual U.S. Bureau of Land Management lease auction for this reserve, needed for Arch Coal’s (NYSE: ACI) neighboring Sufco longwall mine.

A final EIS on the tract had been issued in December 2011 and the Forest Service said in an Oct. 18 Federal Register notice that problems in that EIS needed to be fixed in the supplemental EIS. The draft supplemental EIS is expected in late December 2012 and the final supplemental EIS is expected in March 2013. After the EIS is final, and a Record of Decision on it issued, can BLM hold the lease auction for this coal.

The Greens Hollow tract, applied for by Arch Coal’s Ark Land subsidiary, is located on the Manti-La Sal and Fishlake National Forests in Sanpete and Sevier counties, Utah. The surface and coal resources are both federally owned. The forests administer the surface resources, while the BLM administers the subsurface coal resources. The tract is located on the Muddy Creek and North Fork Quitchupah Creek drainages approximately 10 air miles west of the town of Emery, Utah. The tract is estimated to contain about 56.6 million tons of recoverable coal reserves.

Coal in the tract would be accessed and recovered using underground longwall mining methods, with foreseeable access from existing adjacent leases. The final coal lease tract, as amended by BLM’s Tract Delineation Team, encompasses 6,175 acres of federal coal estate.

The purpose for developing this supplemental EIS, triggered by an appeal from environmental groups, is to clarify the decisions to be made and agency decision authority, analyze the environmental consequences of potential actions to be taken by each agency, make technical corrections, and address agency compliance actions and key resource concerns not previously analyzed in the original 2011 final EIS. There is a need to comply with current direction regarding management of Inventoried Roadless Areas and unroaded/undeveloped areas, address key resource concerns, and update analysis for aquatic management indicator species and sage-grouse, the Forest Service said.

Seven panels in the works in the Lower Hiawatha coal seam

The Greens Hollow tract is located immediately adjacent to the existing federal and state coal leases being developed by Arch Coal at its Sufco mine west of Emery and east of Salina, Utah. The tract lies to the north and west of the SITLA coal lease tract and the Quitchupah lease tract. The coal in the Greens Hollow tract could be directly accessed from the south and east through an extension of underground workings in the Sufco mine. Two seams of coal occur in the lease area, the Upper and Lower Hiawatha. The Lower Hiawatha coal seam has mineable coal thickness throughout the lease. All mining would occur in the Lower Hiawatha seam. Sufco currently mines the Upper Hiawatha seam, so there will need to be a seam shift to work Greens Hollow.

Conceptual mining of the tract includes seven longwall panels oriented to northeast-southwest directions, the December 2011 final EIS said. Overburden in the area ranges between 1,000 and 2,200 feet. The anticipated mining height is 12 feet for the Lower Hiawatha seam. Notable is that 2,200 feet is deep, but not especially deep, by Utah standards.

“Sufco is an underground mining complex located on approximately 25,700 acres in Sevier County, Utah,” said the Feb. 29 annual Form 10-K report of Arch Coal. “The Sufco mining complex extracts steam coal from the Upper Hiawatha seam. We control a significant portion of the coal reserves through federal and state leases. The Sufco mining complex had approximately 48.6 million tons of proven and probable reserves at December 31, 2011. The coal seam currently being mined could sustain current production levels through 2020, at which point a new coal seam will have to be accessed in order to continue mining. The Sufco complex currently consists of a longwall, three continuous miner sections and a loadout facility located approximately 80 miles from the mine. We ship all of the coal raw to our customers via the Union Pacific railroad or by highway trucks. Processing at the mine site consists of crushing and sizing. The rail loadout facility is capable of loading an 11,000-ton train in less than three hours.”

U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data shows that Sufco, Utah’s largest coal mine, produced 3 million tons in the first half of this year and 6.5 million tons in all of 2011.

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.