(Casper Star Tribune, February 14) – Sheridan County hasn’t experienced active coal mining since the last coal operation ceased in the 1980s, though it was once a booming coal community peppered with company towns.
That may soon change.
Cloud Peak Energy, which operates the Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines in Campbell County, recently applied for a federal permit to enhance roads and a rail spur between the non-operational Youngs Creek north of Ranchester and the bustling Spring Creek mine in Montana. The construction will facilitate the moving of equipment, coal and personnel between the two mines.
The Gillette-based company is also awaiting review of a major revision to its permit to mine at Youngs Creek from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.
Meanwhile, the proposed Brook Mine, owned by Lexington, Kentucky-based Ramaco, is just south of Youngs Creek. It would be the first new coal operation in Wyoming in about 50 years.
When these mines will produce coal is still unclear. The Brook Mine’s permit is contested by local landowners, but the company had previously announced a plan to break ground by spring.
A spokesman for Cloud Peak said he could not comment on the company’s immediate intentions with Youngs Creek. If mining operations were to begin in the near future, it would be mentioned when Cloud Peak announces its 2016 earnings, and 2017 plans, on Wednesday, said Rick Curtsinger, spokesman for the company.
But some details are available from Cloud Peak’s application to the Army Corps of Engineers.
Mining development will impact two local waterways starting in 2020, and continuing operations will affect two streams between 2020 and 2046. Cleanup and reclamation efforts are slated to begin in 2051.
Youngs Creek would impact about 20 acres of wetlands, more than 11,000 feet of stream and temporarily divert a stream, according to the permit request to the Army Corps of Engineers.
What the Cloud Peak’s mine permit revision signals is harder to predict. This is not the first time the mine’s permit has gone through changes or been updated.
The site was first permitted to mine coal in 1976 before the federal mining law SMCRA existed, and before Wyoming had taken over the permitting and regulation of coal mining, said Kyle Wendtland, land quality administrator for the DEQ.
After an active period, mining was suspended at Youngs Creek between 1980 and 1993. Reclamation for the original operations was finished in 1996.
Cloud Peak acquired the permit when it bought the Youngs Creek Mining Company from Chevron for $300 million in 2012. The price included 450 million tons of in-place coal and 38,800 surface acres lying adjacent to the Montana border.