BLM clears lease addition for Bridger Coal through the enviro review process

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Rock Springs Field Office on Dec. 29 announced the availability of the Environmental Assessment (EA), Finding of No Significant Impact, and Decision Record for a Bridger Coal lease modification.

The proposed lease modification lies within the existing Bridger Underground Mine, which is located approximately 35 miles northeast of Rock Springs, Wyoming, in Sweetwater County. Bridger Coal applied to modify an existing lease in order to avoid the bypass of an estimated 738,000 tons of minable federal coal located in a 120.02-acre-tract.

Initial public scoping on the modified coal lease was conducted from December 2014 to January 2015. Two sets of public comments were received and used to aid in the development of the EA. The Rock Springs Field Manager’s decision to authorize the lease modification is subject to administrative review through the appeal process.

BLM will receive fair market value from Bridger Coal for lands and coal added to the lease by the proposed modification. The BLM will determine fair market value consistent with its updated Coal Valuation Manual and Handbook, including having its determination independently reviewed by the department’s Office of Valuation Services.

Bridger Coal is co-owned by PacifiCorp and Idaho Power and supplies coal to the adjacent Jim Bridger power plant, which is co-owned by those same two parties.

The Jim Bridger mine complex consists of a multi-faceted mining operation with surface and underground operations as well as ongoing reclamation activities. Collectively, the Bridger Mine Complex produces upwards of 6 million tons of coal per year, supported by 4.0 million–4.5 million tons of coal from the underground operation, and 1.0 million–1.5 million tons from the surface operation. 

Bridger Mine Complex surface operations had been supplying most of the coal requirements for the 2,120-MW Jim Bridger plant since 1974. The underground mine within the mining complex began full production in 2007, and is now providing most of the overall production, with the surface mine and coal from other Wyoming sources supplementing the plant’s requirements.

To secure additional underground coal resources, Bridger Coal applied to the BLM in July 2011 for 320.26 acres of unleased underground federal coal reserves (5.7 million tons of mineable coal) to be incorporated into a federal coal lease tract. BLM approved the lease modification in May 2013. This modification has supported the underground mine’s western expansion, and currently provides the only technologically feasible means of recovering federal coal reserves in this portion of the lease tract.

When the application for the 320.26-acre lease modification was submitted to the BLM in 2011, the general outlook for additional mining to the west was limited because of the available geologic overburden modeling. After further exploration and geologic modeling in the latter part of 2013, Bridger Coal determined that the underground mine could accommodate one additional western longwall panel given the latest data on geologic structure. It applied for a 120.02-acre lease modification in March 2014 to add the additional longwall panel and to continue the feasible recovery of unleased federal coal on the northwest side of its underground operation. The federal coal reserves contained in the 120.02-acre proposed lease modification are estimated at about 738,000 tons of economically recoverable coal.

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.