The western region of the United States has become the dominant region of coal production in the country. While there are fewer coal mines in the west than in Appalachia, the mines tend to be much larger than eastern mines. The character of mines is also different. Most mines are surface mines, but since mines are in less mountainous regions, it’s not accurate to call them mountaintop removal.
September 19, 2014
Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) has renewed his call to suspend all sales of coal leases on federal land. The Senator first called for this suspension in February after the Government Accountability Office issued its report detailing failures by the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management. Some of the issues identified by the GAO include: sub-value sale of coal, sale without proper competitive bidding, and improper valuation of the coal. These problems, and other systemic problems with the coal leasing system have cost the taxpayers $30B over the past 30 year.
September 15, 2014
Ambre Energy Limited has finalized its purchase of Cloud Peak Energy’s interest in the Decker Mine located in the Powder River Basin. Ambre now holds 100% of the Decker Mine. As a condition of the sale, Ambre will assume all liabilities for the mine, including reclamation, and has replaced the outstanding bonds.
Additionally, as part of this deal, Cloud Peak was granted an option to export 7 million metric tons through Ambre’s proposed Millenium Bulk Terminals.
September 15, 2014
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has placed a hold on Ambre Energy Limited’s application to construct a barge loading terminal at the Port of Morrow in Oregon. Ambre proposed this facility to export coal mined in the Powder River Basin to asian markets to offset flagging domestic demand.
The proposed terminal has faced harsh criticism in Oregon, where some see the coal exports as a threat to the Columbia river and the communities situated near it.
September 11, 2014
Trend Mine, the last mine operated at Tumbler Ridge will be shuttered by the end of the year. Anglo American Coal was the operator of the Trend Mine. Anglo American Coal’s President, Frederico Valasquez, stated that they would begin to wind down the operations in December.
This closure follows the April closure of two Tumbler Ridge mines by Walter Energy and a flood of mine closures in 2000. All of these mine closures have left the district without a working mine. However, the community has been trying to diversify their economy by expanding into the tourism and wind energy sectors in the recent years.
May 28, 2014
A potential indicator of the future of coal can be seen in Salem, Massachusetts where a 720-megawatt coal and oil fired plant that has been open since 1951 will be shutting down permanently on June 1st. The plant will be demolished and replaced with a 674-megawatt gas plant with one-third the footprint. There are also plans for construction of operations for a future offshore wind farm.
This coal-fired plant is just one of hundreds set to close nationwide by 2020, according to the Department of Energy. As the gas boom continues throughout the United States and tight restrictions are imposed on carbon emissions, the future of coal appears to be facing some tough roads ahead.
May 22, 2014
The Powder River Basin is expected to face severe rail congestion until at least late 2014 according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Despite the frigid winter and an increased demand for coal to restock pile utilities, the delays from winter weather have created a backlog of coal shipments. Additionally, a shorter harvest season and the boom in domestic oil production created the increased need for rail cars. All of these factors have cause severe delays in rail deliveries out of the Powder River Basin.
Mines like Arch Coal are seeing this first hand such as at the Black Thunder mine where the company will be trying to fulfill their orders throughout the remainder of 2014.
May 19, 2014
As Washington state governor Jay Inslee recently stated that he looks to wean Washington state utilities off of coal completely, China publicly released a plan last week to speed up their solar power development. This is in response to the devastating pollution caused as a result of coal consumption in China and the growing public pressure to switch to more clean burning power.
In combination, these decisions could have a major long-term impact on the coal companies of the Powder River Basin whom rely heavily on coal exports to the Chinese market as well as utilities in the nearby Northwest.
May 14, 2014
Union workers are facing dire prospects in maintaining their unions in the Powder River Basin coal-mines. Of the 16 coal-mines operating in the Powder River Basin, only 3 are still unionized. Additionally all 3 of these remaining unions primarily work on reclaiming mined land, rather than on high volume producing coal mines.
This shrinking of unionization in the Powder River coal beds highlights the goal of the coal companies to keep the union out of the highest grossing and most productive mines.
May 12, 2014
Washington state recently proposed to curb carbon pollution by eliminating imports of coal-fired power. Though coal only accounts for 13 percent of Washington’s electricity, coal accounts for almost 80 percent of the Washington utilities’ emissions of carbon dioxide.
In response, U.S. Representative Steve Daines has directly addressed Washington governor Jay Inslee to override this proposal. Daines stated that limiting imports of coal would significantly harm Montana jobs and the economy of the entire state.
May 8, 2014
Stanford University is the most recent case of universities in the United States electing to remove fossil-fuel stocks from their endowments. Earlier this week, Stanford announced that they had become the first major university to address the impacts of coal on climate change and choose to no longer associate university investment with fossil fuel related companies.
Recently there has been news out of Harvard University that pressure from the student body has also pressed for divestment of endowment stocks in fossil fuel companies. So far though, Stanford is the lone major university that has chosen this tactic along with 11 other smaller universities.
Read article at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/07/education/stanford-to-purge-18-billion-endowment-of-coal-stock.html?_r=1
February 4, 2014
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released findings related to coal leasing and the need for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to enhance the appraisal process. GAO found that the BLM consistently failed to explain the rationale for accepting bids for coal leasing on federal land that at least initially were far below the actual fair market value presale estimates.
The report stated that the state offices of the BLM did not allow independent review of these leasing agreements with coal companies. Additionally, GAO cited that the BLM failed to take advantage of an independent third party appraisal within the Department of the Interior (Office of Valuation of Services). Lastly, GAO was highly critical of the BLM’s failure to provide even limited information to the public on federal coal leasing.
Read article at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-140
See document at http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/659801.pdf
State by state survey of practices for bonding coal mines. Published July 8, 2010
May 31, 2011
The results of the April 2011 MSHA “impact” inspections have been announced, resulting in a total of 161 citations and orders being issued against eight different coal mining operations. All cited mines were in the eastern region of the US, including Shoemaker and Randolph in West Virginia, the No. 2 and #68 mines in Kentucky, as well as one mine in each of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama.
Among the worst offenders in the sweep were the Vision Coal’s No. 2 mine, which received 37 citations and orders that documented (among other things) that Vision wasn’t properly drilling bore holes to test for methane, and that it was creating a risk of a collapse by not following its ceiling reinforcement plan. Inman Energy’s Randolph mine received 25 citations, 21 of which were the most serious “S&S” citations indicating an immediate danger to the mining crew. The impact inspections grew out of an increased enforcement push by MSHA after the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine. Impact inspections target mines that have a history of violations.
Read article at http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2011/05/31/msha-announces-results-of-latest-inspection-sweeps/ and http://www.wfpl.org/2011/06/01/two-kentucky-mines-cited-in-msha-inspections/. Read MSHA press release at http://www.msha.gov/MEDIA/PRESS/2011/NR110531.asp See the list of inspected mines at http://coaldiver.org/documents/master-inspection-list-targeted-enforcement-msha-april-2011
Reports from MSHA Office of Accountability reviews of MSHA inspectors in region 9.
Summary of coal safety and health, released by WikiLeaks. Report RL34429
Document summarizing geology of arsenic in coal and its significance in mining and burning.
PowerPoint summarizing what is proposed in the related rule, a series of new regulations designed to decrease the prevalence of black lung disease in coal miners.
Lowering Miners’ Exposure to RespirableCoal Mine Dust, Including Continuous Personal Dust Monitors; Proposed Rule – 30 CFR Parts 70, 71, 72 et al.
Report by the Inspector General of the US Department of Labor, Sept. 2010
MSHA has not successfully exercised its POV authority in 32 years. Administration of this authority has been hampered by a lack of leadership and priority in the Department across various administrations.
MSHA took 13 years to finalize POV regulations. Those regulations created limitations on MSHA’s authority that were not present in the enabling legislation and made it difficult for MSHA to place mines on POV status. For the next 17 years, MSHA Districts performed POV analyses based on individual interpretations of requirements, but never put any mine operator on POV status. In 2007, MSHA attempted to implement a standardized method based on quantitative data for identifying potential POV mines. However, (a) the process was unreliable and (b) the criteria were complex and lacked a supportable rationale.