BLM revises Oxbow mining report for comments

MONTROSE — A revised environmental assessment that would allow Oxbow Mining LLC to mine approximately 800 acres for nearly 3.8 million tons of coal is available again for public comment.

The comment period ends May 9. The original assessment was challenged in March by environmental groups WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club, which expressed concerns about air quality and effects on climate change.

Oxbow operates the Elk Creek Mine, which is off Colorado Highway 133 near Somerset.

The company wants to lease a 786-acre tract that it says will provide the mine with a year of additional coal reserves.

Barb Sharrow, manager of the Bureau of Land Management Montrose field office, said Friday the agency withdrew the original assessment because of the environmental concerns.

“We made big enough changes in the first document to make it worthwhile to go back to the public and see if they have any more comments.” Sharrow said.

WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club wanted the BLM to require companies to capture methane released during mining, rather than vent it, saying methane is a potent greenhouse gas.

The new assessment cites a 2008 Environmental Protection Agency report that found coal mines operating in the North Fork Valley released 27.6 million cubic feet of methane each day. That number translated into 4.48 million tons of carbon-dioxide or “approximately 0.06 percent of the total emissions for the U.S. in 2008.”

“At this time, there are no reliable tools to ascribe an incremental impact to climate from this level of CO2 equivalent emissions,” the report claims.

The same report said the viability and expense of installing methane-capture infrastructure in the area cannot be calculated.

Another BLM report said the new mining operation would not have significant environmental effects or pose risk to human health. The report said the lease conforms with the Uncompahgre Basin Resource Management Plan.

The Elk Creek Mine has been in operation since 2002, producing 5 million tons of coal annually.

The mine employs more than 335 miners and generates $15 million in royalties. Approximately 50 percent of these federal royalties are distributed to the state of Colorado.

The assessment is available online at: http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/BLM_Information/nepa/ufo.html.

Written comments may be submitted to the BLM’s Uncompahgre Field Office at 2465 S. Townsend Ave., Montrose, CO, 81401.


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