In the face of proposed new regulations which, if adopted, will advance the federal government’s “war on coal,” the Delta County commissioners have gone on record supporting the local mining industry.
The commissioners call the proposed BLM regulations “a broadbrush approach that is more applicable to private coal properties in the Eastern U.S. or to the natural gas industry.”
According to a BLM advisory, proposed regulations aimed at coal mine operators would “allow the capture, use, sale or destruction of waste mine methane from federal coal leases.” Coal mine methane capture and use is already allowed; new regulations would require it at a time when technology and economics don’t support it.
The commissioners noted North Fork mine methane concentrations are typically less than 1 percent, so it is probably not worthwhile to collect ventilation air methane as an energy source.
A commercial demonstration unit for electric generation has been installed at Oxbow Mine. The West Elk Mine uses methane for on-site power generation. Those examples are two exceptions. The technology can be made to work, but the economics are questionable, especially when compared with the low cost of producing electricity from coal.
The Board of County Commissioners says that the BLM’s proposed rulemaking would “increase the regulatory pressure on the primary source of electricity when there is no viable alternative that is market ready.” The proposed rules are “not based in reality or thinking long term,” the commissioners stated.
June 30 was the BLM’s deadline for public comments on “technologies for the capture, use, sale or destruction of waste mine methane.”
Current technology for venting coal mine methane is standard. The BLM states, “Methane can be removed from coal and other underground mines using several methods: draining methane from the mineral deposit before or during mining operations; draining gas from closed or mined out areas; or using fans to dilute and ventilate methane from mine areas.”
The BLM states further that in underground mines, the gas “can pose a significant safety threat for underground miners to operations where the methane may concentrate in underground workings to explosive levels.”
The industry’s opponents have taken action to stop the placement of mine vents that would remove the methane and its threat to underground miners if those vents surface on lands carrying a protective legal status of some kind.
Coal mine methane can have little economic value where it is often found, far from pipelines and transmission facilities. Coal industry opponents also oppose construction of pipelines for transport of commercial coal mine methane.
The BLM’s hopes for coal mine methane commercial uses appear to be less supported by technology and economics than by politics and policy. The BLM’s advisory states, “Reducing methane emissions is a powerful way to take action on climate change.”
Continuing, the BoCC faults federal energy policy in general. The proposed regulations “satisfy the current war on coal, but do not reflect the reality of the other required ventilation requirements or constraints of operations located on (public) lands.”
“The war on coal is real,” remarked Delta County Commissioner Mark Roeber during a work session on Monday.
The federal government’s coordinated opposition to the coal industry is keenly felt in Delta County where, say the county commissioners, 1,000 families depend on direct employment with the North Fork Valley mines.
Last month, a federal judge in Denver stalled expansion plans for the West Elk Mine due largely to concerns about “climate change” from the use of coal for generating electricity.
Regionally, the Environmental Protection Agency wants new regulations on the Bonanza, Utah, power plant that could idle 100 plant workers, and another 164 workers at the Deserado coal mine near Rangely.
The commissioners say the BLM’s proposed regulations are unsuited for the North Fork Valley mines. “The underground coal mines in Delta and Gunnison counties are three of the few mining federal coal that these proposed regulations would apply to. They each have a proven record, excellent track record of mine safety and environmental compliance performance,” says the BoCC’s statement
Emphasizing the mines’ importance to the area’s economy, the BoCC noted the following statistics:
• Mountain Coal Company: 368 miners; total pay and benefits $44 million; 2011 taxes and royalties paid $25 million; 2012 taxes and royalties paid $16 million.
• Bowie: 321 miners employed; $8.8 million in royalty payments; $777,000 in severance tax payments; $26.2 million payroll; $2.3 million excise taxes paid.
• Oxbow: historic employment around 300; total economic benefit from the three mines, $60 million annually.