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WildEarth Guardians to Challenge Business as Usual at BLM

Agency Again Rubberstamps Expansion of Wasteful Colorado Coal Mine

Denver—Waste and global warming remain the order of the day for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and WildEarth Guardians has vowed to fight the agency’s misguided efforts to put the coal industry ahead of the climate and the American public.

In a decision issued today, the BLM authorized the Elk Creek East coal lease, giving the go ahead for Oxbow Mining to expand the Elk Creek coal mine in western Colorado’s Gunnison County.  In order to expand, the company has proposed to vent 5.1-7.4 million cubic feet of methane - otherwise known as natural gas - into the air daily for 12 months.  A potent greenhouse gas, the amount of vented methane would equal more than one million tons of carbon dioxide and the value would be more than $10 million.

“This is a sucker punch to the climate and sound management of public resources,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians.  “Instead of seeking real solutions, the Bureau of Land Management rubberstamped what the coal company wanted, even through it meant wasting public resources and even though it meant unnecessarily putting the climate at risk.”

The Elk Creek East decision is the second issued by the BLM this year.  The first decision, issued last February, was voluntarily withdrawn by the BLM only after Earthjustice, on behalf of WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club, filed an appeal filed.

The latest decision does not differ at all from the BLM’s previous decision and still promises a one-two punch to the climate.

First, the coal from the Elk Creek East lease will be shipped out of Colorado and burned in dozens of power plants throughout the U.S., leading to the release of more than 10 million tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide—as much as is released by more than 1.7 million passenger vehicles annually.

And second, the mining will vent more than 5.1 million cubic feet of methane daily into the air.  Methane is a potent greenhouse with more than 20 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide.  The BLM estimates that methane venting alone will release the equivalent of one million tons of carbon dioxide annually—1% of all greenhouse gas emissions released in Colorado.

Methane however, is not only a potent greenhouse gas, it’s a valuable product.  Methane is worth around $4,000 per million cubic feet, meaning mining the Elk Creek East coal lease will waste $7.4 million annually.  In this case, given that the methane is federally owned, that waste will come at the expense of American public.

Although methane must be removed from mines for safety reasons, many mining companies today actually take steps to capture and use methane to generate electricity, or, as a last resort, flare the gas.  The BLM refused to do anything to limit methane waste. 

“Call us crazy, but we just don’t agree that the BLM’s job is to stick it to the American public while coal companies get rich,” said Nichols.  “The agency’s either incompetent or just doesnt’ care.  Either way, it’s disgraceful and we’ll be doing everything we can to inject some integrity into the BLM’s management of our public resources.”


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