Arch Coal Contracts for Flaring of Methane of West Elk Mine
By Dennis Webb
March 13, 2020 - Arch Coal has contracted for flaring of methane at its West Elk Mine, which would reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the state’s largest single industrial source of methane.
The company has reached an agreement with Environmental Commodities Corp., or ECC, for the project. According to its website, ECC works with companies to generate and supply emission offsets to entities capped by California’s greenhouse gas program.
John Poulos, engineering manager for the underground mine, said he couldn’t elaborate further about the project. But Gunnison County Commissioner John Messner said it should be completed around June or July, once conditions allow after spring snowmelt, according to what Poulos has told a North Fork Valley coal methane working group.
Messner called the agreement a pretty big advancement.
“This is what we asked West Elk to do when we supported their expansion, is that we could support the expansion only if they actively explore methane capture and mitigation and/or economic utilization,” he said.
Methane, which is produced during mining and vented to the surface to prevent mine explosions, is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. But its climate impacts can be much reduced by flaring, and as the primary component in natural gas it also potentially can be collected and piped for use as a fuel or burned on site to create electricity.
West Elk Mine is seeking to expand beneath 1,700 acres of the Sunset Roadless Area in the Gunnison National Forest. Last fall, a federal judge halted the expansion, saying the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement should have considered requiring the mine to flare methane.
Arch Coal has since indicated that the Mine Safety and Health Administration has approved a flaring project at West Elk Mine. Messner said the mine is working to get state permits for the project.
He said his understanding is that the project would make use of a portable flare and involve the active segment of the mine where longwall mining occurs, as opposed to the sealed part behind the longwall.
Messner said it’s not clear to him how much of the mine’s methane emissions would be mitigated by the project.
Jim Marshall, executive vice president of Raven Ridge Resources in Grand Junction, which does work including coal methane development and carbon emission reduction projects, said he will believe the West Elk project when he sees it, noting the mine’s longtime insistence that such a project isn’t feasible. But he said ECC must believe the project is economic.
“Whether or not the project ever gets kicked off is not certain, as it is unclear to me who exactly is funding the project,” Marshall said.
The project wouldn’t be the first involving a coal mine in the North Fork Valley. In 2012 Oxbow Mining began producing electricity and flaring methane at its Elk Creek Mine in a project involving partners including the Aspen Skiing Co.
Though the mine subsequently closed, it continues to produce methane that can be used by the project.
Last year an Oxbow subsidiary pursued approval for flaring methane for the carbon credits at the idled Bowie No. 2 Mine, which isn’t owned by Oxbow. Messner said that project since has gone into operation. He said another project is being pursued that involves an abandoned mine adjacent to the Elk Creek Mine and would feed methane underground via Elk Creek to Oxbow’s methane capture facility.