GILLETTE — The Powder River Basin Resource Council is alleging that Contura is in violation of federal and state law because it has not updated its mining and reclamation plans for two coal mines in the Powder River Basin.
The Resource Council filed a citizen complaint with the federal Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality this week 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.
The mines were closed by Blackjewel, but Contura Coal West still holds the permits to mine.
The Resource Council filed the complaint because the mines have been shut down for more than 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 is still obligated to follow the law because it is the permit-holder, according to a press release.
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, it must describe its future plans for mine operation, reclamation, environmental monitoring, and water treatment, the resource council said.
“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, vice chairman of the Resource Council, in the release.
The bankruptcy does not free Contura of its responsibility, he added.
“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,” LeResche said. “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 its 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.
But Contura has been public about its 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.
The resource council believes those significant changes require major revisions to the mine and reclamation plans, and will greatly affect miners and local and state government planning.
The Resource Council notified both agencies of the complaint and requested that the OSMRE conduct a federal inspection and take appropriate enforcement action if the DEQ fails to issue a notice of violation to Contura.