The U.S. Office of Surface Mining is taking scoping comments until Oct. 10 on what should be covered in an environmental assessment it plans to write related to permitting of new mining area at the Belle Ayr mine in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming.
OSM will prepare an environmental assessment (EA) for the Belle Ayr Mine North Tract federal mining plan modification. This project was officially proposed by Alpha Coal West (ACW), a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources, in October 2014.
The Belle Ayr mine is located in Campbell County, Wyoming, approximately 10 miles south-southeast of Gillette. The lease and sale of the federal coal included in the Belle Ayr North tract was originally evaluated in the 2009 South Gillette Area Coal Lease Applications Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The coal was offered for sale in a sealed-bid, competitive lease process on July 13, 2011.
A bid submitted by the BTU Western Resources subsidiary of Peabody Energy was accepted. The lease was subsequently transferred from BTU Western Resources to Alpha Wyoming Land Co., a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources, in July 2012.
On June 11, 2014, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ)/Land Quality Division (LQD) approved ACW’s application to amend the Mine Permit No. 214-T8 to include approximately 976 acres of the federal coal lease area within the existing and approved Belle Ayr Mine permit boundary. On Jan. 28, 2015, ACW submitted an application to WDEQ/LQD to amend Mine Permit No. 214-T8 to include the remainder (approximately 695 acres) of the Belle Ayr North tract. OSM is preparing this EA to evaluate the environmental impacts resulting from the project.
Under the currently approved state mine permit issued in 2013, mining operations have disturbed 12,091 acres and the proposed modification would add approximately 1,478 acres of disturbance. Since 2010, the annual production rate has ranged from a high of about 25.8 million tons (mmt) in 2010 to a low of about 14.4 mmt in 2014. Due to the uncertainty in determining the demand for coal, the EA will be prepared assuming that the average annual production rate would be 22.5 million tons per year (mmtpy).
Based on remaining coal reserves and the estimated future production rate, mining at Belle Ayr would be completed in approximately three years if the project is not approved. The amount of federal coal to be added at this mine as a result of the project is approximately 221.7 mmt of which, approximately 218.2 mmt would be mineable. The approval would extend the life of mine by approximately nine years.
Through the EA process, OSM will determine whether or not there are significant environmental impacts. If the EA identifies significant impacts, an EIS will be prepared.
Notable is that Alpha Natural Resources, based in Virginia, recently sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but has said it plans at this point to reorganize and not dissolve itself.