BLM writes supplemental enviro review on new Alton Coal reserves in Utah

The Sierra Club said Alton Coal Development LLC’s Coal Hollow mine faced a setback on June 11 when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) did not select a preferred alternative for an expanded reserve area for this mining operation located near the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

Alton’s proposal would destroy 3,500 acres of southern Utah’s public lands and have negative impacts on local economies, regional tourism, and air and water quality, the club contended. The agency’s newly released Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement does not recommend any of the alternatives considered, the club added. A 60-day public comment period on the recommendation will be held.

“Millions of people travel to southern Utah every year to visit these special places, which boast some of the nation’s best air quality and crystal-clear night skies,” said Bobbi Bryant-Salvato, a resident of Panguitch, in the Sierra Club statement. “We need to take care of those resources while maintaining our local business communities and public health. The Department of the Interior made the right choice by not selecting mining as the preferred alternative. We are optimistic that the BLM will make the same wise choice and select the no-action alternative for the Final Environmental Impact Statement.”

Said the Utah Department of Environmental Quality website about this operation: “The Alton Development Company Coal Mine (Alton Coal) operates a coal mine 30 miles south of Panguitch, Utah, 12 miles southwest of Bryce Canyon National Park, and 25 miles northeast Zion National Park. In November 2014, Alton Coal proposed changes to its existing permit for the Coal Hollow Mine. The company plans to locate underground facilities within an existing pit area at the mine. The addition of underground facilities would reduce surface disturbance of the permitted area and the length of the haul roads needed to transport coal to the processing/load-out facilities. The company’s Notice of Intent (NOI) proposes the addition of two generators to the current permit to operate underground equipment, including a fan. The generators will create minor increases in all criteria pollutants from the facility.”

The DEQ website added: “In 2010, Alton Coal submitted a proposal to expand its mine onto leased federal land. The Bureau of Land Management developed and reviewed a draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposal. The Division of Air Quality (DAQ) issued an Intent to Approve (ITA) and requested public comments on the proposal. Following the public process, all submitted comments were reviewed by DAQ and considered during the final drafting of the permit. The division approved the air quality permit for this project on November 10, 2010, and attached conditions for ongoing air monitoring to ensure compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and track the long-term impacts of emissions from the facility.”

There are two mines listed with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration under Alton Coal, which MSHA says is controlled by James Wayland.

  • The Coal Hollow surface mine was listed with MSHA in 2009, went into first production in 2013, and produced 555,268 tons in 2014 and 126,863 tons in the first quarter of this year.
  • The Burton #1 deep mine was listed with MSHA in November 2014, is considered “active” by MSHA, but with no recorded production through the first quarter of this year, though MSHA tallies the mine workforce in the first quarter as three people.

Notable is that MSHA’s control attributions for companies is simplistic. The much more detailed ownership and control database at the U.S. Office of Surface Mining shows Alton Coal as 49% owned by SH Coal Investment LLC, 8% owned by Robert Nead Jr. and 26% owned by James Wayland. No other parties are shown holding ownership shares. OSM data says that SH Coal Investment is 50-50 owned by Thomas Ungurean and Charles Ungurean, who are Ohio-based coal operators that in the past had founded Oxford Resource Partners.

BLM reworked this tract from the original application

Says the executive summary of the supplemental draft EIS issued by BLM: “Department of Interior regulations suggest that departmental agencies should identify preferred alternatives in draft EISs but do not require them to do so. The BLM did not identify a preferred alternative or preferred alternatives in the Alton Coal Tract LBA DEIS published in November 2011, because no such preference existed at that time. That continues to be the case now. In developing this SDEIS, the BLM has conducted extensive consultation and coordination activities with its cooperating agencies and other agencies with special expertise.”

The executive summary added: “In November 2004, a lease by application (LBA) was filed by Alton Coal Development, LLC (ACD) to mine federal coal, using primarily surface-mining methods, near the town of Alton, Utah. … This application includes nearly 2,683 surface acres and approximately 38 million tons of recoverable coal. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reconfigured the tract to exclude approximately 40 acres and to include approximately 898 additional acres. Acreage added to the tract during tract reconfiguration was based on the identification of additional recoverable coal reserves not included in the original LBA and on additional surface acreage deemed necessary for mine operations. The Alton Coal Tract LBA (hereafter the Alton Coal Tract or tract), as reconfigured, contains approximately 3,581 surface acres and 44.9 million tons of recoverable coal reserves.

“Under the Proposed Action, recoverable portions of in-place coal reserves would be mined over approximately 25 years using 1) surface-mining methods where the depth of overburden would be less than approximately 200 feet, and 2) underground methods (development mining, auger mining, highwall mining, longwall mining, and/or room and pillar mining) where the depth of overburden would exceed approximately 200 feet. The choice of mining method, however, can vary from the 200-foot overburden threshold depending on the coal thickness, overburden type, overburden (highwall) stability, underground mining techniques available, operating and capital costs, and coal market economics. (The analysis considers surface disturbance for surface mining up to approximately 200 feet of overburden removal.)

“Approximately 2 million tons of coal per year would be mined once topsoil stockpiling and initial overburden removal have occurred. Reclamation would be concurrent with mining over the course of the estimated 25-year life of the mine and would be followed by a minimum 10-year reclamation and revegetation monitoring period.

“BLM independently evaluated the coal resources in the tract. BLM estimates that the tract under the Proposed Action consists of approximately 59.6 million tons of in-place coal and that an estimated 44.9 million tons of coal would be recoverable from the tract. BLM estimates that in areas where coal would be mined by surface-mining methods, approximately 90% of the estimated in-place coal reserves could be recoverable. However, in those portions of the tract that must be mined by underground mining methods, approximately 50% of the in-place coal reserves could be recoverable. These percentage recovery estimates are based on assumptions about the depth to which the use of surface-mining methods is feasible and the extent of the no-coal zone.

“Future foreseeable transportation of mined coal reserves from the tract to market would be dictated by existing roads and market conditions at the time of sale of mined coal. The applicant (ACD) is currently planning on moving mined coal from the tract to market via development of a rail loadout at Iron Springs, approximately 11 miles west of Cedar City, Utah. To access this loadout, coal transportation would occur via KFO Route 116 continuing north through the town of Alton, north on US-89, west on State Road 20 (SR-20), and finally south on Interstate 15 exiting at exit number 59 in Cedar City. For analysis in this EIS, the construction and use of the rail loadout at Iron Springs would be the reasonably foreseeable loadout location associated with the tract, and the approximately 110-mile route would be the reasonably foreseeable transportation route linking the tract and the loadout.”

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.