BLM gives Oxbow OK to dig more coal at Elk Creek mine

MONTROSE — Oxbow Mining LLC has been cleared to pursue 3.8 million tons of recoverable coal, which would extend the mine’s operations by a year, the Bureau of Land Management announced Tuesday.

The BLM approved a lease modification for the Elk Creek Mine after strong support poured in from coal miners and supporters of the industry. The federal coal lease area spans nearly 790 acres.

“By and large (public comments) were very supportive,” said Shannon Borders, spokeswoman for the BLM office in Montrose.

Oxbow Mining operates the Elk Creek Mine, an underground long-wall coal mine north of Somerset. The mine has been in operation since 2002, producing approximately 5 million tons of coal annually.

Oxbow Mining has said the modification is needed to extend the life of the mine until about 2016, at which time the company hopes to move its mining operations to nearby Oak Mesa. According to a BLM news release, the new lease is expected to provide employment for 335 miners and generate $15 million in royalties. Fifty percent of those federal royalties will go to the state, Borders said.

The public-comment period ended in early May after the BLM reassessed environmental concerns raised by a pair of groups, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club.

The groups wanted the BLM to require companies to capture methane released during mining, rather than vent it, saying methane is a greenhouse gas.

The new assessment cites a 2008 EPA report that stated the area was not affected by current CO2 emissions and that infrastructure to collect and store methane was not feasible.

Associated planning documents are located on the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office website at: http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/BLM_Information/nepa/ufo.html.


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