The Bridger coal mine in southwest Wyoming wants to expand, adding 320 of federally-owned acres to the underground portion of the mine.
Bridger Coal Co., owner of the coal mine 35 miles northeast of Rock Springs, has begun the process to gain federal approval for the expansion, which holds about 3 million tons of coal, said a spokesman for PacifiCorp, the parent company of Bridger Coal’s majority owner.
The mine provides coal for the adjacent Jim Bridger power plant, which is owned by PacifiCorp and Idaho Power Co., and consumes 1,100 tons of coal per hour when its four generation units are running at full capacity. The Bridger plant supplies power to PacifiCorp and Idaho Power customers in six states.
“It’s a logical progression of our mining plan to secure fuel for the Bridger plant,” said PacifiCorp spokesman Dave Eskelsen.
PacifiCorp subsidiary Pacific Minerals Inc. owns two-thirds of Bridger Coal Co. and Idaho Power Co. subsidiary Idaho Energy Resources owns the remaining third.
Last year, the Bridger mine produced 1.42 million tons of coal and employed 192 workers, according to federal data. The sub-bituminous coal mine began operations in 1974 and a new underground portion of the mine opened in 2007.
The mine, whose leases cover nearly 27,000 acres, remains unique in that it continues to employ three methods of mining: traditional surface, where the coal lies within 300 feet of the surface; highwall mining, which involves the unexcavated face of the exposed coal from the surface mine; and underground mining.
The last federal lease expansion of the mine totaled 560 acres for surface mining and was approved in July 2010, eight months after the initial notice of the federal review was sent out, according to BLM-Wyoming spokeswoman Serena Baker.
Once the federal environmental impact review is complete, the BLM and Bridger Coal Co. will make a deal for the coal. Unlike many of the coal leases in the Powder River Basin, the Bridger expansion won’t be open to competitive bids because PacifiCorp owns the private leases around the area and nobody else can access it, Baker said.
Eskelsen said it’s not yet clear how much the company will pay for the lease expansion.
“The eventual price the company will pay will be determined by that process,” he said. “We’re allowing for a pretty significant permitting phase for these things, so the plan would be to not mine this for five years or more.”
The Bridger Mine isn’t the only new coal mining activity planned in the area. In neighboring Uinta County, Kiewit Corp. is moving forward with plans for the open-pit Haystack mine 20 miles northeast of Evanston to open in 2013 and produce up to 1.5 million tons of coal per year.