Paul Bonnifield: Coal mine near its end
I usually don’t respond to a letter to the editor that comments on a letter I’ve written. I think I need to comment on Mr. Kevin Copeland’s letter “Fact 1st on Coal.” The hard truth is that the Twenty Mile coal mine is running out of coal to mine and several miners and railroaders better be looking at their future.
Critical facts to be considered
Twenty Mile Mine’s operation in the Wadge Seam is nearing the end.
The Wolf Creek Seam (150 feet beneath the Wadge) is lower in British Thermo Units (BTUs) and higher in ash than the Wadge coal. One of the critical advantages of the Wadge Seam is it high BTUs relative to Power River coal. The Wolf Creek Seam simply is not as good of a coal and doesn’t command the same market position.
The economic cost of operating in the Wolf Creek coal will be considerably higher. Lifting millions of tons of coal an additional 150 feet is expensive. Having higher ash requires more expense and manpower in the wash plants to clean the coal. The two factors will add significantly to the operation costs. The combination of lower-quality coal and higher operation costs will place mining coal in the Wolf Creek Seam in a difficult position in a competitive market. It also is necessary to ask how much does Peabody want Twenty Mile coal to compete with Peabody mines in the Powder River Basin when the quality of coal is approximately the same?
Mine safety must also be considered. The old workings of the Wadge/Twenty Mile Mine is filling with water and deadly gas. In order to mine the Wolf Creek coal, it will be necessary to work directly under a shallow lake filled with deadly gas. Every miner knows something about subsidence. When the subsidence fractures reach the old workings, it will release gas and water into the lower mine. More mining will cause more fractures with accompanying release of gas and water. Mining the Wolf Creek Seam directly beneath the old workings is similar to playing Russian Roulette.
The coal reserves Peabody has listed for sale is primary located in mountain areas where any mining would be marginal in the modern market that requires high production low cost operations. Peabody is simply adjusting to the reality of modern coal mining. Besides, Peabody already has enormous reserves and operations in Wyoming. What they are selling is insignificant to their larger goals.
Mr. Copeland is correct. I did use the incorrect name for the Sage Creek Mine. The fact remains that the Sage Creek Mine will require a mining system and market different from Twenty Mile. Sage Creek will supply the Hayden Power Plant, but it will not send many trains down the line.
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Roger Levanduski, a 15-year veteran of the hospitality/financial industry, has been named vice president of finance for Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. He will begin duties in late January 2021.