Tag Archives: Osm

5/23/2012 The Durango Herald: Five groups ask court to halt coal mining Environmentalists say feds failed to consider cumulative impacts

5/23/2012 The Durango Herald: Five groups ask court to halt coal mining- Environmentalists say feds failed to consider cumulative impacts By Emery Cowan local environmental group is one of five organizations suing the federal government over its approval of a proposed expansion of the coal mine that supplies the Four Corners Power Plant in northern New Mexico. The lawsuit, filed last week, challenges the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement’s approval of a 714-acre expansion of the Navajo Coal Mine in northern New Mexico. The plaintiffs argue the federal agency did not evaluate the indirect and cumulative impacts of the mine expansion.

The extraction, combustion and waste disposal of the additional coal will cause the release of significant amounts of air and water pollution that will adversely affect the Four Corners and beyond, the lawsuit claims.

Coal ash disposal, dust accumulation, traffic and contamination of water sources are other potential environmental impacts, said Mike Eisenfeld, the New Mexico energy coordinator at the San Juan Citizens Alliance, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The office of surface mining “put on blinders to the cumulative reality of coal operations at the mine and the power plant,” Eisenfeld said.

The approval “hides the true magnitude of the damage caused by coal mining and combustion in our region and the risks of green-lighting more of the same with no change,” he said.

The groups argue the federal agency should pursue a more-detailed analysis of the environmental impacts of mine expansion.

Mine operator BHP Billington is willing to discuss with the environmental groups the cumulative environmental impacts, said Jac Fourie, president of BHP Billiton’s New Mexico Coal operations, according to news reports.

The 714-acre expansion is a scaled-down version of the company’s 2010 proposal to strip mine 3,800 acres on the same site.

A Colorado district judge ruled the Office of Surface Mining’s analysis of that proposal insufficient.

The current expansion proposal permits the company to extract 12.7 million tons of coal that will be burned at the Four Corners Power Plant.

“The two facilities are inextricably connected,” Eisenfeld said.

The mine needs the expansion permit to fulfill its contract with the power plant, he said.

The Four Corners Power Plant provides electricity to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

It is the largest coal-fired power plant and the largest single source of nitrogen oxides in the country.

Recent regulations proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that target toxic pollutants would reduce the plant’s emissions by 87 percent.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

9/19/2011 Gallup Independent: Peabody seeks permit renewal for Kayenta Mine

9/19/2011 Gallup Independent: Peabody seeks permit renewal for Kayenta Mine By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – Peabody Western Coal Co. has filed an application with the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to renew its permit for mining operations at Kayenta Mine through July 5, 2015. Peabody submitted an application to OSM to renew the permit in February 2010, and proposes to continue mining in coal resource areas N-9, J-19, and J-21 from July 6, 2010, through July 5, 2015. The proposed permit renewal does not include any revisions to the mining and operations plan or the addition of any new mining areas.

“The Kayenta Mine is moving through a routine five-year permit renewal process covering the mine plan, land restoration plan and other activities related to ongoing operations, which is consistent with current operations,” Beth Sutton, director of Corporate Communications for Peabody Energy, said.

OSM has prepared an environmental assessment to evaluate environmental effects from the permit renewal. Comments must be submitted by Oct. 22 to be considered.

The Kayenta Mine permit area is located on approximately 44,073 acres of land leased from the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe. Peabody holds leases to mine up to 670 million tons of coal from reserves within the permit area. As of July 2010, 20,851 acres within the permit area had been disturbed.

Mining activities within the lease area would result in a moderate, short-term impact, according to OSM and would disturb 1,159 acres of land used for grazing and traditional land uses. However, the federal agency said reclamation of the disturbed areas would improve the productivity and quality of grazing lands.

“The mine has a record of good environmental compliance, and typically returns mined lands to a condition that is as much as 20 times more productive for rangeland than native areas,” Sutton said.

Within the J-21 coal resource area, four of the 83 occupied houses within the Kayenta Mine permit area would be relocated. Residents would be compensated for the replacement of all structures and for lost grazing acreage if they can establish a customary use area claim.

According to the Finding of No Significant Impact, Peabody has committed to replace three windmill wells that have or would be removed by mining. Any other water supply that could be adversely impacted by mining during the five-year permit term would be replaced.

Annual groundwater use for domestic and mine-related purposes from the Navajo aquifer would average 1,236 acre-feet per year, or 70 percent less than was used prior to 2006 when the coal slurry pipeline was operating.

Water quantity use impacts to the N-aquifer are expected to be negligible to minor, and no endangered or threatened species are expected to be directly affected because there is no predicted decrease of flows in seeps and springs associated with the N-aquifer, OSM said. Pumping has been primarily occurring within the confined part of the N-aquifer, and the agency said water levels are rising or are predicted to rise because less groundwater is being used since the coal slurry pipeline was discontinued.

The number of people employed at the Kayenta Mine will increase from 422 in 2010 to 432 in 2015. The average annual revenue paid to the tribes from 2005-2009 was $43.2 million, plus an additional average annual payment of $6.2 million to Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and scholarship funds, according to OSM. These revenues are expected to continue.

“Kayenta Mine is a powerful economic force in the region creating 400 jobs and nearly $370 million in direct and indirect economic benefits for regional communities,” Sutton said. “We look forward to an efficient and timely review as part of the customary stakeholder process.”

Kayenta Mine ships approximately 8 million tons of coal annually to Navajo Generating Station.

Information: http://www.wrcc.osmre.gov/Current_Initiatives/Kayenta_Mine/Renewal.shtm or (303) 293-5035. E-mail comments to kayentarenewalea@osmre.gov

7/28/2011 Navajo Times: Report: Mining depleted N-Aquifer more than predicted

7/28/2011 Navajo Times: Report: Mining depleted N-Aquifer more than predicted By Cindy Yurth, Tséyi’ Bureau A newly released study of the springs around Peabody Western Coal Co.’s mining operations on Black Mesa concludes the company’s use of water for mining and slurrying coal depleted Navajo Aquifer storage by 21,000 to 53,000 acre-feet – more than 6,700 acre-feet over what the company’s consultants predicted. The study by Daniel Higgins, who holds a Ph.D. in arid lands resource science from the University of Arizona, also concludes Peabody’s predictions were based on a flawed model that was then used to inform both the Office of Surface Mining’s hydrologic impact assessment and a subsequent environmental impact statement for the mine – and that over the 15 years the Black Mesa Mine was in full production, nobody ever checked to make sure the aquifer was behaving as predicted.

Four environmental groups – Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, Tó Nizhóníçní, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity – are submitting the report to the OSM as part of their comments on an environmental assessment currently underway, and have asked OSM to hold a public hearing on Higgins’ findings.

Peabody, meanwhile, disputes the report.

“The issues raised by activists long opposed to mining are heavy on rhetoric and light on facts,” reads a statement released by the company in response to Higgins’ research. “The Navajo Aquifer is healthy and robust, and mining has not harmed any regional water supplies.”

Higgins said he’s letting his data speak for itself.

“I gathered all the studies that had to do with Black Mesa dating back to the 1940s, including the environmental impact statements and groundwater models,” he explained. “Then I evaluated the accuracy of the predictions in the environmental impact statements.”

Higgins checked the levels and flows for wells and springs about which predictions had been made and found that, in general, the water level decline Peabody attributed to mining withdrawals was underestimated and the water level decline attributed to municipal withdrawals were overestimated. Over the years, no one had checked to make sure the model was working.

“When in comes to environmental impact statements, whether it’s a new project or revisions to an existing one, once a decision has been made there is no requirement to validate the predictions in that impact statement,” Higgins said.

In the case of Kayenta, for example, the model predicted 85 to 87 percent of the decline in the level of the N-Aquifer under Kayenta would be due to drawdown from municipal wells – even though Peabody was pumping 4,085 acre-feet per year while Kayenta pumped 567.

Higgins found a strong correlation between the water level decline in Kayenta and the rate of Peabody withdrawals, but there was no statistically significant relationship between Kayenta’s municipal withdrawals and water level decline.

Higgins also found that, during the six months in 1985 when the Mohave Generating Station was idled for repairs and Peabody stopped pumping water to slurry coal to the station, the water level in many wells throughout the aquifer increased.

“I can’t say for certain that the mine was responsible for that,” he said, “but there was a pretty dramatic spike in many of the wells in the area.”

While the model predicted there would be no seepage between the lower-quality D-Aquifer and the N-Aquifer, the USGS did find some of the water sources became more contaminated with particulates, arsenic and other pollutants over the years the N-Aquifer was pumped, the report stated.

“Whether that is due to seepage is unclear,” Higgins said. “We know very little about the D-Aquifer.”

Perhaps the major problem with the predictions, according to Higgins, is that they were based on a water-budget model that the USGS intended as a learning tool, not a management tool.

“What water-budget modeling does is to treat water like a bank account,” Higgins explained. “As long as withdrawals don’t exceed deposits, then everything is thought to be sustainable.”

Reality, however, is more complex.

The water-budget approach assumes the climate and precipitation rates will stay the same, which they rarely do, Higgins said. It also assumes the water will be replaced fairly quickly.

“The USGS determined in 1997 that 90 percent of the water in the N-Aquifer is between 10,000 and 35,000 years old,” he said. “It’s fossil groundwater. It can’t be replenished on a human time scale.”

In its statement, however, Peabody begs to differ.

“Studies demonstrate that mining will use less than one-tenth of one percent of the volume of water stored in the aquifer over the life of the operations and that the aquifer will recharge rapidly,” the statement reads. “Current evaluation of the Black Mesa wellfield confirms the aquifer is recovering and reacting as modeling has forecast.”

Peabody added water from the N-Aquifer to ground coal to form a slurry that was piped to the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nev., until 2005, when the power plant shut down.

The company currently uses 1,200 acre-feet per year for dust suppression and drinking water at its Kayenta Mine, for which it pays the Navajo and Hopi tribes $1.1 million annually, according to its statement.

The Kayenta Mine transports its output by rail to the Navajo Generating Station in Page.