BLM seeks public comment on Twentymile Mine expansion | CraigDailyPress.com

BLM seeks public comment on Twentymile Mine expansion

Eleanor C. Hasenbeck/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Peabody Energy's Foidel Creek Mine in western Routt County was the second most productive mine in the state in 2017.

The Bureau of Land Management is working to gather information from the public on a proposed expansion to Twentymile Coal Co.’s Foidel Creek Mine.

A public hearing is at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, at the BLM’s Little Snake Field Office in Craig, and the agency is gathering public comments on the proposal through Dec. 6.

If approved, Twentymile could mine an estimated 4.7 million tons of coal from the Wolf Creek South seam, according to the BLM. The additional coal would produce about $13 million in royalties, which would be split between the state and federal government.

The underground mine produced 3.84 million tons of coal in 2017, making it the second most productive coal mine in the state, behind the West Elk Mine near Paonia, according to the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

The expansion would extend the life of the mine by about two years, according to the BLM. The mine employed 275 miners as of September.

“The Wolf Creek South (Lease by Application) is a routine lease application for 4.1 million tons to support timely, ongoing operations at Twentymile Mine,” Peabody spokesperson Charlene Murdock wrote in an email to the Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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BLM documents and news releases state the amount of recoverable coal is an estimated 4.7 million tons.

The Wolf Creek South seam is adjacent to the coal seam Twentymile is currently mining. While the coal is federally owned, the land on the surface is privately owned by a subsidiary of Peabody Energy, Twentymile’s parent company. The BLM has said there would be no disturbance to the surface if Twentymile was allowed to expand into the Wolf Creek South seam underground.

If approved, Twentymile would begin preparing to mine the seam in about 2022 and actively mine the seam from 2026 to 2028, according to the BLM’s preliminary environmental assessment.

If approved by the BLM, a lease for the coal would be sold in a competitive auction using sealed bids. However, Twentymile is the only mine operating in the area, so it is unlikely another company would bid on coal adjacent to the existing mine. Still, the company would be required to pay fair market value for the coal. At the Nov. 28 public hearing, the BLM will take public input to establish the fair market value.

“When we get the sealed bid, it still has to at least meet the fair market value, or we reject it,” said David Boyd, a BLM spokesperson. “If there were multiple bidders, it would go to the highest bidder that meets fair market value. Usually, in a case like this, where it’s a coal company looking to expand from their existing mine, it would be unlikely that there would be any other bidders. That’s where that fair market value comes in.”

In developing the environmental assessment, the BLM received public comments from eight businesses, 27 individuals, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, WildEarth Guardians, Clean Energy Action, the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity. The businesses were largely in favor of the proposal. Two-thirds of the individual commenters were opposed to the expansion, and the remaining one-third were generally supportive.

The agency also received thousands of form comments opposed to the proposal from the Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians and 133 form comments from mine staff in support of the expansion.

“The Foidel Creek Mine is a massive mine, and essentially our concern is that the writing is on the wall for the sake of our health and our air quality and the climate,” said Shannon Hughes, Climate and Energy Program attorney for WildEarth Guardians. “Yet Peabody keeps trying to expand this coal mine bit by bit, and the BLM just rubber-stamps these expansions without scrutinizing Peabody's operations.”

In a public comment on the proposal, WildEarth Guardians allege that the BLM has based its analysis of the impacts of expanding the Foidel Creek Mine on a 1980 analysis of the already-mined Wadge seam.

Hughes said the BLM cannot support its claim that the impacts of expansion are insignificant because it has not analyzed the impacts of mining in the Wolf Creek seam. WildEarth Guardians have called for the agency to develop and environmental impact statement, which is a more intensive review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Coal definitely had its place in time,” said Hughes. “Now we are trying to honor that but also move forward. We are hoping that the BLM will step up to the plate here and really help transition miners and workers at (Hayden Station) and help them along, so that we can move forward in a positive way."

Peabody Energy did not respond to requests for comment on what the expansion would mean for the mine and whether expanding into the Wolf Creek South seam would result in a change in the number of employees at the mine.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email ehasenbeck@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

IF YOU GO

What: Public hearing on Twentymile Coal Co.’s proposed expansion into the Wolf Creek South Seam
When: 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28
Where: Bureau of Land Management Little Snake Field Office, 455 Emerson St. in Craig

View the proposal and submit comments at Go.usa.gov/xQZNb. Written comments may be submitted by mail to Jennifer Maiolo, Little Snake Field Office, 455 Emerson St., Craig, CO 81625, or faxed to 970-826-5002.

Be aware that your entire comment, including personal identifying information, may be made publicly available. Commenters can request to have identifying information withheld, but the BLM cannot guarantee it will be able to do so.