Groups cite mine plan concerns

Conservation groups are pushing climate-change concerns over proposed expansions of operations by Oxbow Mining near Somerset.

WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club have appealed to the U.S. Department of Interior’s Board of Land Appeals over the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to lease about 786 acres adjacent to Oxbow’s Elk Creek Coal Mine in the North Fork Valley.

Also, several conservation groups raised the greenhouse gas issue in connection with a proposal under review by the U.S. Forest Service and BLM to modify the mine’s existing lease by adding 157 acres.

Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said the coal that would be mined under the 786-acre lease would release more than 10 million tons of carbon dioxide when burned in power plants. That’s more than what 1.7 million cars produce annually, he said.

In addition, the lease would result in at least 5.1 million cubic feet of methane being vented each day into the atmosphere. Methane is considered to have more than 20 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide.

Oxbow Corp. spokesman Brad Goldstein said he disputes the idea that low-sulfur, low-mercury coal produced in mines such as Elk Creek is a “principal driver in greenhouse gases.”

“That one is a stretch to me, especially given the fact that we’re all … burning fossil fuel to commute to and from work. For them to just focus on these mines is ludicrous,” Goldstein said.

He said pushing such issues jeopardizes the future of 350 Elk Creek mining jobs and more than a thousand jobs altogether in the North Fork Valley.

Nichols said he’s simply asking the BLM to disclose impacts and pursue options for addressing them, from carbon offsets to methane capture.

Oxbow has been working with Denver-based Vessels Coal Gas to explore use of methane from Oxbow’s defunct Sanborn Creek Mine in Gunnison County for power generation, and Glenwood Springs-based utility Holy Cross Energy has expressed interest in purchasing the electricity. Goldstein and Steven Hall, a Colorado BLM spokesman, said miner safety and economic viability would have to be considered in any methane-capture endeavors.

Hall said it’s unclear how much authority the BLM has to require methane capture, and he doubts most western Coloradans would want the agency to shut down the industry by not approving leases because of the issue.

Nichols says the BLM also failed to adequately consider other air-pollution impacts related to the Elk Creek mine proposals, even as the state recently cited the existing mine for possible emission permit violations.


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