Utility looks at fuel from coal mine methane

A Glenwood Springs-based electric utility is in discussions about purchasing power that would be generated from methane that is now vented to the atmosphere from coal mining in the North Fork Valley.

“It’s really an outside developer that’s looking to actually work with the coal company and gather the gas and we would just be a purchaser of the power,” said Del Worley, chief executive officer of Holy Cross Energy.

Worley said that it would be inappropriate for him to identify the developer or mine involved.

Environmentalists say gas freed up during mining should be captured and used in power generation, or at the very least burned by flaring to reduce its potency as a contributor to global warming.

The owners of the West Elk and Elk Creek mines previously have said capturing the methane is economically unfeasible. The idea of flaring raises concerns about possibly triggering a mine explosion.

Worley said Holy Cross has been interested for several years in making use of the vented gas as a means of helping address climate change. For a while, he said, there was a question of who owned the gas, but he said he understands the question has been cleared up.

An Interior Department administrative appeals decision in a Utah case held that gas released through the mining process isn’t subject to mineral leasing laws. That enabled the Bureau of Land Management to amend West Elk’s federal lease to let it capture its methane, but the BLM hasn’t required methane capture or flaring.

Worley said the company Holy Cross is working with has experience capturing methane from mines in the East and in Europe.

The conservation group WildEarth Guardians has sued the federal government over the venting at West Elk. Jeremy Nichols of WildEarth Guardians said the interest currently being shown by Holy Cross is encouraging, but the Interior Department appears to have been unable to decide what to do about methane that for now continues to go to waste.

Colorado BLM spokesman Steven Hall said he hasn’t heard of any specific discussions involving Holy Cross, and they would involve private business negotiations. He said the considerations for the BLM include balancing the economic viability of methane capture versus the ability of coal mines to be commercially viable and especially of miner safety to be protected.

Spokespersons for Arch Coal and Oxbow Corp., the owners of the West Elk and Elk Creek mines, respectively, could not be reached for comment.

Over the years, the Delta-Montrose Electric Association also has voiced interest in tapping power from coal mine methane.


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