Pro­posal stir­ring ques­tions in North Fork Val­ley

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Ja­son Blevins

What be­gan as a quiet re­quest for a tech­ni­cal ad­just­ment to a coal min­ing per­mit has prompted a del­uge of ques­tions about what could be­come of Colorado’s first coal gasi­fi­ca­tion plant.

Bowie Re­source Part­ners last month submitted a pro­posal to Colorado min­ing reg­u­la­tors to de­velop a plant that would process coal waste us­ing heat, pres­sure and chem­i­cals to cre­ate a syn­thetic gas that could be used to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity or diesel fuel. The plan in­volves us­ing a new tech­nol­ogy — of­fered by a Ba­hamian com­pany — that would process up to 72 tons of coal waste a day at the min­ing com­pany’s Bowie #2 Mine near Pao­nia, which it idled this year as the coal in­dus­try weath­ers a na­tion­wide col­lapse.

Last week the Colorado Di­vi­sion of Recla­ma­tion, Min­ing and Safety mailed a dozen let­ters to stake­hold­ers — lo­cal, state and fed­eral of­fi­cials as well as Western Slope con­ser­va­tion groups — in­form­ing them of Bowie Re­source’s com­plete ap­pli-

cation for a gasi­fi­ca­tion fa­cil­ity.

The Ken­tucky-based Bowie Re­source Part­ners — with one coal mine in Colorado and three in Utah — is field­ing pub­lic com­ments on the pro­posal, per state re­quire­ments for per­mit re­vi­sions. But the com­pany’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Pao­nia and Ken­tucky de­clined to com­ment on the plan for a gasi­fi­ca­tion fa­cil­ity.

“We don’t know what’s go­ing on and we have a lot of ques­tions,” said Natasha Leger, in­terim ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor for the Pao­nia-based Cit­i­zens for a Healthy Com­mu­nity, which ad­vo­cates for ad­di­tional en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions from oil and gas de­vel­op­ment in south­west Colorado. “It seems like they are try­ing to do some­thing un­der the radar with an un­prece­dented type of plant and we want an­swers. This was submitted as a tech­ni­cal re­vi­sion of a coal min­ing op­er­a­tion but it sounds like some­thing sig­nif­i­cantly big­ger that the pub­lic has a right to weigh in on.”

The ap­pli­ca­tion calls for de­vel­op­ing a mod­u­lar “DAXIOM” fa­cil­ity, us­ing tech­nol­ogy owned by El Camino Duro In­vest­ments in the Ba­hamas. The Bowie ap­pli­ca­tion calls it a “state-of-the-art gasi­fi­ca­tion process op­er­ated in a closed, oxy­gen-de­prived en­vi­ron­ment … gen­er­at­ing vir­tu­ally no pol­lu­tion.” Bowie said it would build the fa­cil­ity at the site of its ex­ist­ing coal stock­pile at the Bowie #2 Mine. The process would in­volve in­cin­er­at­ing dried, crushed coal waste us­ing ma­chines ca­pa­ble of pro­cess­ing 72 tons a day and op­er­at­ing 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with­out in­ter­rup­tion.

The sys­tem would cre­ate, ac­cord­ing to the ap­pli­ca­tion, “next gen­er­a­tion, high-per­for­mance, ul­tra-clean al­ter­na­tive trans­port fu­els” like low­sul­phur diesel, and would gen­er­ate a “solid, pow­der-like” residue waste that could be pro­cessed into pel­lets for use in ce­ment.

The fa­cil­ity would be the first in Colorado and would join only two large-scale In­te­grated Gasi­fi­ca­tion Com­bined Cy­cle plants con­vert­ing coal into syn­thetic fu­els in the U.S.: one in In­di­ana and one in Mis­sis­sippi. Coal gasi­fi­ca­tion plants are all over China, though. The U.S. Depart­ment of En­ergy’s Of­fice of Fos­sil En­ergy says coal gasi­fi­ca­tion “of­fers one of the most ver­sa­tile and clean ways to con­vert coal into elec­tric­ity” and pre­dicts the process “will be at the heart of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of clean coal tech­nol­ogy plants.” The of­fice pre­dicts that smallscale, mod­u­lar ap­proaches to de­vel­op­ing gasi­fi­ca­tion plants — like the one Bowie is propos­ing, where the com­pany en­vi­sions five mod­u­lar struc­tures — helps re­duce the cap­i­tal cost that has made gasi­fi­ca­tion plants less fea­si­ble in re­cent years.

Still, it’s a first for Colorado reg­u­la­tors.

“We only very re­cently re­ceived this pro­posal, and we’re still sort­ing out our role, and po­ten­tially that of other rel­e­vant agen­cies,” said Todd Hart­man, spokesman for the Colorado Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources. “We’ve not re­ally had an ap­pli­ca­tion like this be­fore and still try­ing to fig­ure out how it fits into our, or oth­ers’, re­view process.”

Delta County of­fi­cials are still wait­ing for cor­re­spon­dence from Bowie Re­source about the new plan for its coal mine, said county ad­min­is­tra­tor Rob­bie LeVal­ley.

Fewer lo­cales have borne the brunt of coal’s col­lapse in Colorado more than Delta County — where an es­ti­mated 1,000 jobs have evap­o­rated in the last three years as the coal in­dus­try with­ers. The lat­est blow came this year when Bowie Re­source idled its Bowie #2 Mine, elim­i­nat­ing more than 100 jobs. The shut­down fol­lowed Oxbow Min­ing’s clo­sure of the county’s Elk Creek Mine near Som­er­set in 2013.

“We have def­i­nitely taken an eco­nomic hit,” LeVal­ley said. “That’s why we are in­ter­ested in what Bowie is think­ing and we are will­ing to sit down with them on the re­struc­tur­ing or for­mat or how this might work out.”

LeVal­ley is cu­ri­ous how many work­ers a gasi­fi­ca­tion plant would em­ploy. Will it em­ploy only a few work­ers, like Aspen Ski­ing Co.’s $5.4 mil­lion meth­ane cap­ture fa­cil­ity atop the Elk Creek Mine, which gen­er­ates $150,000 worth of elec­tri­cal power ev­ery month? Or will it need dozens of work­ers like the coal mine op­er­a­tion?

The more jobs, the bet­ter, DeVal­ley said.

Delta County has spent the last three years la­bor­ing to de­velop a more di­verse econ­omy that re­lies less on coal. Broad­band in­ter­net ex­pan­sion and eco­nomic in­cen­tive pack­ages and grants are at­tract­ing small busi­nesses and man­u­fac­tur­ers. But the county still wants min­ing to “bal­ance with other in­dus­tries in the county” LeVal­ley said.

The ap­pli­ca­tion submitted by Bowie Re­source’s con­tracted con­sul­tants at Grand Junc­tion’s J.E. Stover & Associates, said the plant would be ca­pa­ble of pro­cess­ing more than just coal waste, in­clud­ing or­ganic ma­te­ri­als, house­hold waste, wood, tires, biomass and hospi­tal waste.

Could the Bowie plant be­come a pro­ces­sor for all kinds of waste, won­ders Ted Zukoski, an at­tor­ney with Earthjus­tice, which pro­vides le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion to con­ser­va­tion groups.

“Colorado min­ing reg­u­la­tors should not speed ahead with per­mit­ting for this ma­jor in­dus­trial fa­cil­ity when the pub­lic has so lit­tle in­for­ma­tion about the gasi­fi­ca­tion plant or its po­ten­tial im­pacts to hu­man health and the en­vi­ron­ment,” Zukoski said. “There are a ton of ques­tions out there that need an­swers first.”

Last week, Bowie Re­source rep­re­sen­ta­tives asked the Colorado Di­vi­sion of Recla­ma­tion, Min­ing and Safety to push back a de­ci­sion on the gasi­fi­ca­tion pro­posal to the end of De­cem­ber.

Jeremy Ni­chols, the cli­mate and en­ergy pro­gram direc­tor for WildEarth Guardians, which in 2015 suc­cess­fully sued the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for not ad­dress­ing cli­mate change im­pacts when ap­prov­ing coal mine ex­pan­sions in north­west Colorado, wants a longer de­lay. He has a litany of ques­tions.

Among his ques­tions: Is the gasi­fi­ca­tion plant’s waste toxic? Is the process toxic? Will the fa­cil­ity process syn­thetic oil on site? Will that mean there will be oil trains run­ning through the North Fork Val­ley? Will there be any more coal min­ing at Bowie #2?

“It’s a stretch to call this clean en­ergy,” Ni­chols said. “This isn’t a coal mine any­more. This is ba­si­cally turn­ing it into a re­fin­ery. A re­fin­ery is a very in­ten­sive, com­pli­cated, risky en­deavor and at the end of the day it’s a very dirty op­er­a­tion. To us, this is another sign that the coal in­dus­try is grasp­ing to stay alive and find its fu­ture.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.