The U.S. Office of Surface Mining said Sept. 10 that it will prepare an environmental assessment (EA) for a federal mining plan modification for the Freedom Mine’s West Mine Area in North Dakota, with comments on what should be covered in the EA being taken until Oct. 10.
The application to lease a federal coal tract was filed with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) by Coteau Properties Co. in January 2002 and subsequently approved by the BLM for competitive lease sale in 2005. Coteau was the successful high bidder during the lease sale.
In April 2011, Coteau received federal mining plan approval from the Assistant Secretary of Lands and Mineral Management (ASLM) to mine portions of the federal coal tract. On Oct. 28, 2014, the North Dakota Public Service Commission notified OSM that it had received Permit Revision (PR) No. 18 for Coteau’s mining permit for the project. OSM is preparing this EA to evaluate the environmental impacts resulting from the project.
The Freedom Mine is located approximately 10 miles north of Beulah, North Dakota, north of Highway 200 in Mercer County. The total amount of federal coal authorized for removal within the currently approved federal mining plan is approximately 45.1 million tons (mmt) and an estimated 39.1 mmt of coal remains to be mined. PR No.18 proposes to add zero federal surface acres to the approved permit area and add approximately 960 federal coal acres and 25.6 mmt of federal coal to the approved federal mining plan.
The Freedom Mine uses a combination of dragline and truck shovel mining methods. The average production rate is approximately 13.5 million tons per year (mmtpy) and the maximum production rate is 16 mmtpy. This project would not change the average production rate or the maximum production rate for the life of the mining operation. Freedom Mine started operation in 1983 and the life of mine would continue operation until 2045. This mining plan modification would not extend the life of the mine.
Through the EA process, OSM will determine whether or not there are significant environmental impacts. If a finding of no significant impact is reached the OSMRE Director will make a recommendation to the DOI’s ASLM on the federal mining plan modification, and the ASLM will approve, approve with conditions, or disapprove the federal mining plan modification. If the EA identifies significant impacts, an environmental impact statement will be prepared.
The website of North American Coal says that at approximately 15 million tons of production per year, the Freedom Mine is the largest lignite mine in the United States. The customer is Basin Electric Power Cooperative. “Coteau’s lignite is sold to Dakota Coal Company, a subsidiary of Basin Electric, which then provides lignite to Basin Electric’s Antelope Valley Station, a 900-megawatt electric-generating plant; Leland Olds Station, a 650 megawatt electric-generating plant; and the Great Plains Synfuels Plant, the nation’s only commercial-scale coal-gasification plant,” says the North American Coal website.