The North Fork Valley's coal mines are looking to the future.
Along with other mines in Northwest Colorado that produce among the cleanest-burning, highest-quality coal fuel available, the local mines are upgrading technology, improving safety, meeting regulatory requirements, and overcoming daunting technical challenges as they plan to develop additional local natural resource reserves.
These mines (Oxbow, Bowie and West Elk) provide the economic base for local communities as they work to overcome barriers, both natural and political, to providing America's most affordable and abundant source of energy.
Representatives of the local mines were among the more than a dozen industry experts who gave presentations at the 2013 Western Colorado Coal conference last week in Delta.
Oxbow noted the following points in its presentation:
In December 2012, the mine experienced a "bounce" behind the longwall machine. Shortly afterward, a small rise in certain gasses was recorded.
In January another bounce occurred next to where the first one took place. At that point, crews immediately withdrew and sealed off the area leaving equipment, including the longwall machine, in place.
A "bounce" is defined as "a catastrophic failure of pillars and/or floor strata." They can cause the mine floor to rise dramatically in a short period of time.
At the time of the bounce, Oxbow's longwall machine was working more than a half mile underground. Bounces can't be predicted, but the amount of overburden can be a factor, a mine official said.
In August, crews reentered the mine, removed the temporary seals and checked the area of the bounce. They found the level of gases that can indicate increasing likelihood of a spontaneous combustion event on the rise. The area was sealed off again to prevent inflow of fire-feeding oxygen and it remains sealed today.
Since then, continuous miners have operated in the mine's eastern reserves, according to the report.
"We are evaluating our options for future mining,' said Mike Ludlow, mine supervisor. "We do plan on future mining."
The crews that entered the bounce area found Oxbow's longwall machine "standing and in good, but not perfect, condition," Ludlow said.
Twenty-two holes have been completed on Oxbow's coal exploration project on Oak Mesa north of Hotchkiss. The company recently applied for a permit to drill additional exploration holes north of the Oak Mesa project boundary and south of the Forest Service boundary.
Another North Fork Valley mine, Bowie Resources, is the only of the three North Fork Mines located in Delta County. It is the county government's largest single source of property tax, contributing $1.1 million annually.
Bowie is working its longwall in its West Mining District with two continuous miners also in operation. Management sees five to six years of operations in new reserve areas being accessed.
Bowie has had to overcome many underground problems with water, gas and geology.
Bowie has 321 employees and produced 4.4 million tons of coal in 2012.
Bowie has invested $22 million in mine improvements. The mine has won many awards in recent years.
Challenges Bowie is facing include eight "loss time " accidents this year (though none was classified as reportable), finding quality employees, maintaining compliance with new and tougher regulations, and dealing with various "anti-coal initiatives."
Bowie sells most of its production to the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The West Elk Mine recently achieved one million man hours of work without a reportable or lost time accident. The West Elk Mine has achieved its outstanding safety record with an employee buy-in to safety concerns and the motto, "Every miner goes home safe and in the same condition he showed up for work." There have been no injuries in 2013; the national average is almost five.
West Elk produced 6.9 million tons in 2012.
The West Elk has gone 13 years without an environmental violation. But environmental groups are not satisfied with that record of responsibility. The mine recently earned a permit to expand its lease into new reserves, but an environmental group called Wild Earth Guardians filed for an injunction against the permit it is currently in litigation.
Also, a report from Tri-State Generation and Transmission at the Coal Conference noted the New Horizons Mine at Nucla will be in production in November. That is when the 110 megawatt Nucla Power Station will be restarted from its current maintenance idling.blog comments powered by Disqus