Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Local coal mine ready to step up and deal with methane issue

Pursuing an “aggressive timeline” for start up with working group

By Katherine Nettles

The West Elk coal mine, also known as the Mountain Coal Company, announced last week that it is ready to actively pursue methane capture to mitigate the amount of the greenhouse gas it releases. Located near Somerset, it is currently the only active coal mine in the North Fork Valley.

The North Fork Coal Mine Methane Working Group formed in 2017 to explore mitigation strategies for the high concentrations of methane emitted from the coal-mining district there. The methane capture process, referred to within the industry as “flaring,” converts the methane gas to carbon dioxide, which is a less potent greenhouse gas.

Until now, however, the mine’s participation in the working group was as a member/stakeholder and it had not committed to any action, according to Gunnison County commissioner John Messner. He said the group has been making headway in several directions.

“It was getting together all the operations in the valley … to start a conversation around what methane capture is, what are the methods of doing it, and what are the impacts. We have taken an in-depth look at what are some solutions. All the coal mines willingly engaged in the working group. It has taken some time to fully utilize the possibilities,” Messner said.

“Recently we are starting to see some possibilities. In particular, the West Elk Mine, the only active mine in the area, at the last meeting [with the working group] expressed their willingness to do capture and abatement on the active mine,” Messner reported. Mountain Coal Company informed the working group they are ready to move forward with an aggressive time frame.

Messner explained that there are several other hurdles to clear, including the buy-in of other mines, and awaiting permit approvals from the BLM to do the capture. He said there are two types of situations related to methane capture within the North Fork. Currently two mines have a solid mineral lease with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). One, the West Elk Mine, is actively being mined, while the other, the Bowie Mine, is inactive but not closed. So both could potentially pursue a lease addendum with the BLM to do the capture. The other mines are permanently closed and sealed. Reclaimed areas exist where methane is still being emitted, but they are without any current solid mineral leases from the BLM with which to work.

“Now we’ve got the active mine that is willing to engage,” said Messner. The working group has scheduled a meeting later this week with leaders from the state and the mine to understand the next steps for West Elk Mine.

“It’s been a couple years that we’ve been working on this, and all of the actors have been working in good faith. I am very appreciative of the West Elk Mine being willing to participate in the near future.”

West Elk Mine’s general manager was contacted for comment but did not respond as of publication time.

Governor Jared Polis also recently appointed Messner to the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission (see page 7 for details).

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