Even while President Trump and his Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, are going to extreme lengths to use the federal government as a crutch for the coal industry, plans by companies to lease and mine more publicly owned coal continue to fall by the wayside in the American West.
Among the failed endeavors: Plans by Arch Coal to start a new mine meant to fuel a coal-to-liquids facility in southern Wyoming and proposals by Kiewit to acquire two new federal leases, including one that would have spurred a new mine and one that would have added 462 million tons of coal to the company’s Buckskin mine in the Powder River Basin.
And the latest plans to take a tumble?
A proposal by Contura Energy (formerly Alpha Natural Resources, which went bankrupt in 2015) to acquire a massive new federal lease to expand the company’s Belle Ayr mine in the Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming south of the town of Gillette.
As we just learned, Contura withdrew an application to acquire 253 million tons of publicly owned coal and expand the Belle Ayr mine by more than 1,800 acres. Called the “Belle Ayr West” lease, according to the official report by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, Contura withdrew its application on June 12, 2017 and the file was closed on June 29, 2017.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that industry is completely stalled out. In late July, the Bureau of Land Management announced plans to move forward with a new coal lease for Cloud Peak Energy’s Antelope mine, also in the Powder River Basin. Still, with Cloud Peak reporting a $27 million loss in the first half of 2017, one has to wonder whether the company could realistically afford the hundreds of millions that would be required to acquire a new federal lease.
Our climate and clean energy aren’t in the clear, but even with help from Trump and Zinke, the coal industry doesn’t seem to be getting much of a leg up.
It seems that all the politics in the world can’t overcome the reality that coal is simply too costly and too risky.