August 28, 2019

This week Powder River Basin Resource Council (Resource Council) filed a citizen complaint with the federal Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement (OSMRE) and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regarding mine violations at the Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte coal mines, which have been shut down since Blackjewel filed for bankruptcy on July 1. Blackjewel, which was operating the mines, closed them, but Contura Coal West still holds the permits to mine.

The Resource Council notified both the DEQ and OSMRE of the complaint and requested that OSMRE conduct a federal inspection and take appropriate enforcement action if the DEQ fails to issue a notice of violation to Contura.

The Resource Council’s complaint was filed because the mines have been shut down for over 30 days without filing the necessary updates to either Contura’s annual mine report or to the company’s mining and reclamation plans, which are required by federal and state law. Even though Blackjewel filed bankruptcy and walked away from the mines, Contura as the permit-holder and is still obligated to follow the law. Contura must update the agencies and the public on how long the mines will remain closed, and must describe their efforts to stabilize the mines and correct any environmental hazards.  Most important, they must describe their future plans for mine operation, reclamation, environmental monitoring, and water treatment.

“This is a serious situation with the mines being closed for an extended period of time; we need to know that the mines remain safe and that potential hazards are being properly dealt with,” said Bob LeResche, Resource Council Vice Chair. “Blackjewel’s bankruptcy does not absolve Contura of responsibility; they are the permit holder and need to follow the law. The public, especially the people who live near the mines, needs to be assured that mines are being handled safely, even during this closure, and the mines must be safe for workers when they eventually return.  And the people of Gillette, Campbell County and the State of Wyoming who depend on these mines as an important part of the economy need to know future plans for the mines.”

The Resource Council’s complaint addresses the fact that Contura has not updated their mining and reclamation plans. The current plans describe long-term mining and reclamation, including a lifespan for the mines that extends many years into the future. However, Contura has been very public about their new plan to finish mining operations within one year, and to complete reclamation as soon as possible after that because the company no longer wants to operate the Wyoming mines, but focus instead on its operations in Appalachia. These significant changes require major revisions to the mine and reclamation plans, and will greatly affect miners and local and state government planning,

“Contura needs to be upfront about their plans for these mines. Not only is this required by law, but it’s also the decent thing to do, so that the community and the state are informed about their plans,” said Stacy Page, a Resource Council board member and former regulator.

The complaint can be downloaded here.