The coal firm trying to open a mine in Sheridan County has submitted another plan after its first attempt was shot down last October due to landowner concerns.
Ramaco Carbon has asked the Department of Environmental Quality to consider a revised plan for the Brook Mine that the company argues will address hydrology and blasting criticism. The new proposal also slashes initial production by 90 percent.
“We wanted to show the Sheridan community, and Wyoming overall, that we will be good stewards of the land, air and overall environment, as well as be sensitive to local concerns,” said CEO Randall Atkins. “This we feel we have done, while still addressing the economic needs to create a viable project which will ultimately benefit the entire community and state.”
The Department of Environmental Quality confirmed that it had received a revised application.
The Brook Mine would be the first new coal mine in Wyoming in decades. It would sit in a historic mining county, but one that has not had coal production since the 1980s. With a decline in the thermal coal market nationally, Ramaco shifted its focus from coal production to carbon research. Its proposed research facilities would be fed by the Brook Mine.
State regulators had deemed the original mining plan complete in early 2017, but nearby landowners, Big Horn Coal Company and the citizen’s group Powder River Basin Resource Council called foul.
Landowners said the blasting would harm foundations and that the company had failed to study issues like subsidence and water contamination or depletion outside of the mine’s permit boundaries. The coal company had already been fighting Ramaco over permit boundaries and lent its voice to criticism of Ramaco’s mining plan.
The dispute went before the Environmental Quality Council, a citizens’ board appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Wyoming Senate. The plan was denied in October due to “inadequacies,” with the assumption that Ramaco could submit a revised proposal.
A number of lawmakers were displeased that the council decision bucked the Department of Environmental Quality’s judgment. They attempted to cut funding for the council in the second year of the two-year budget, but compromised on a review of the Environmental Quality Council’s staffing and funding. That report was due to lawmakers this month.
Scaled back production
In a statement Friday, the company said it had improved modelling of how the mine would affect water supply. It has also scaled back its expected initial production by 90 percent. The new plan would limit blasting, precluding holidays and weekends. On subsidence concerns in the area — where historic mining has created sinkholes — the company argues it’s done more research. The long wall mining proposed for Brook is not consistent with the historic mining that’s caused subsidence in the area, the company said.
Shannon Anderson, the Powder River Basin Resource Council lawyer who represented landowners in the Brook Mine dispute, said she was surprised by the news that Ramaco was trying again with so soon.
“I haven’t seen it yet, but I assure you there will be problems, she said. “They are headed back to where they were before.”
The company would have needed more time to do sincere monitoring and data collection on water and land impacts, she said.
“This is more fluff and not science.”