Energy Blend: Colowyo Mine looks toward expansion, reclamation | CraigDailyPress.com

Energy Blend: Colowyo Mine looks toward expansion, reclamation

Craig Press staff report

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct several errors in the original publication. The Craig Press sincerely apologizes for the erroneous information.

Give and take is the name of the game at Colowyo Mine, which is is preparing to begin work at a new pit while restoring previously used lands.

Colowyo Mine Manager Chris McCourt said the mine has been recognized by both federal and state environmental agencies for its attention to detail in its reclamation efforts. Reclamation is the process whereby trees, grass, vegetation, and soil are restored in areas where mining took place.

The mine has reached full reclamation status on 1,181 acre of land so far, and Tri-State has reclaimed 630 acres since the acquisition of the mine in 2011. They are currently mining in the South Taylor Pit, which is planned to be reclaimed by 2029. The pit still holds about four years worth of coal.

"The reclamation planning process at Colowyo begins before the mining operations start and is then implemented into the mining process, minimizing the time between first disturbance and full reclamation status," McCourt said.

The goal, he added, is to restore the land to its original condition. Under Colorado law, the reclamation time frame is a minimum of 10 years after mining is complete. The mine also cooperates with the state to relocate sharp-tail grouse and other native species as conservation efforts geared toward improving their populations.

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Colowyo is in the process of beginning mining operations at the Collom Pit. Current efforts are focused on building the infrastructure that will support mining efforts, McCourt said. This infrastructure includes building roads to move equipment and simplify transportation, establishing a steady power supply, and creating storage areas.

He said a massive coal digging shovel must be moved to the new pit. The shovel is being transported on to a platform that only moves about 1 mile per hour, meaning days are needed to get the shovel to the new location.

"The shovel being moved is a major event," McCourt said. "Not many miners in their careers get to see it. It is almost a once-in-a-lifetime-event, in a way."

The opening of a new pit also means work for local contractors. McCourt said the mine has up to 200 employees on site to help build the infrastructure.

Infrastructure construction began in April 2017 and will be completed in October, McCourt added. The first coal is scheduled to be produced in January. The boxcut will be 650 feet deep, and the Collom Project will allow Colowyo access to coal leases issued by the Bureau of Land Management, as well as other state and private leases.

McCourt estimated about 89 million tons of coal will be produced during the project's life. The Collom Pit has 21 coal seams to be mined, ranging from two to 12 feet in thickness. The Collom Project will extend Colowyo operations for approximately 35 years.

The coal will be used at Craig Station and marketed to other potential users.

Gaining approval

The coal leasing process for the Collom Project began more than a decade ago. A federal lease application was submitted in 2005, and according to the National Environment Policy Act, an environmental assessment was required. This assessment was completed in August 2006 and indicated the project would create no significant negative impact.

A mine permit revision was submitted to the state in 2009 and approved four years later, following another environmental assessment. The second assessment was completed in 2016 and again found no significant impact.

All told, the process to negotiate the required permits to make the Collom Project a reality required more than 10 years, McCourt said.

Asked about the Trump administration's relaxation of regulations pertaining to the coal sector, McCourt said the changes do help the coal industry but do not impact Colowyo's operations to any great degree.