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Federal agency approve West Elk Mine coal mine's expansion in the North Fork Valley

Coal News - Published on Fri, 22 Mar 2019

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The Daily Sentinel reported that a federal agency has approved a proposal to let the West Elk Mine produce coal from beneath some 1,700 acres of national forest roadless acreage in the North Fork Valley. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, or OSMRE, has approved a mining plan modification for the mine, owned by Arch Coal. The company still must obtain approval by the Interior Department assistant secretary for land and minerals management, but Jeremy Nichols with the conservation group WildEarth Guardians said he expects that approval probably will be issued imminently.

Conservation groups including WildEarth Guardians continue to challenge the expansion in court. A federal district court judge ruled against them in August, but they are appealing the decision.

West Elk employs some 300 people and is the last coal mine still operating in the North Fork Valley. The enforcement office estimates that the expansion would add about two years to the mine's life and allow for the mining of 10 million tons of federal coal.

The mine's underground operations would have surface impacts in the Sunset roadless area because of the need to drill holes to vent methane liberated during mining. Venting helps protect miners from the potential of underground explosions.

In Colorado, a state-specific national forest roadless rule is in effect, rather than the 2001 national roadless rule. It includes a North Fork Valley exemption for coal mine operations to build temporary roads.

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Posted By : Rabi Wangkhem on Fri, 22 Mar 2019
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