South Heart Power Project

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This article is part of the Coal Issues portal on SourceWatch, a project of CoalSwarm and the Center for Media and Democracy. See here for help on adding material to CoalSwarm.

South Heart Coal (SHC) is a subsidiary of Great Northern Power Development (GNPD), which is affiliated with Great Northern Properties, the nation’s largest private coal reserve holder. SHC filed for a North Dakota air permit for a new coal gasification plant on August 18, 2005.[1]

South Heart Coal is also applying to mine lignite coal for the plant through the proposed South Heart Mine.[2]

In August 2007, GNPD withdrew its air quality permit application; however, SHC also considered submitting a proposal to build an IGCC plant in the same location.[3] The project would be 30 miles west of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and the Class I air status of the park make this location problematic.[4]

In January 2008, Great Northern Power Development and South Heart Coal announced their intent to move forward with a $1.4 billion proposal for a coal-to-gas plant and coal mine at the same site. If the new proposal is approved, construction should begin in December 2009, and the plant will be operational in 2012.[5]

On April 1, 2008, Stark County gave Great Northern Power Development (GNPD) a mining permit April 1 based on a two line application. In response, Dakota Resource Council and Plains Justice submitted the notice of appeal to Stark County District Court on April 28. The appeal argued that the county decision did not reference Stark County's Comprehensive Plan and therefore was arbitrary and capricious.[6]

In April, 2008, GTL Energy of Australia announced that it intended to build a coal drying plant at the South Heart location. The North Dakota Public Service Commission denied that they had jurisdiction over permitting the plant even though both state and federal code refer to drying plants as "coal preparation plants," which must be permitted under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).

On September 30, 2008, local landowners and Dakota Resource Council filed a second appeal of the Stark County Commission’s attempt to amend the Stark County Zoning Ordinance and allow Australia-based GTL Energy to zone industrial for a coal beneficiation plant.

"According to the North Dakota Century Code, § 11-33-03, zoning decisions must be made in accordance with the objectives in the Stark County comprehensive plan," said Derrick Braaten, attorney for DRC. A specific policy in the Plan is to promote "the ideal of the family farm and support establishment and continuation of adequate farm programs." The plan also states that the county should "strive to protect the agricultural integrity of the rural areas," to "avoid conflicts between land uses," and to maintain the county’s "clean and favorable environment."

On October 3, 2008, DRC asked the federal government to stop construction of a coal drying plant near South Heart until the plant is incorporated into a mining permit. The complaint to the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) states, "DRC believes the findings of the PSC are in error and contrary to plainly stated law and OSM regulations." It further states that, "this warrants immediate OSM review and intervention," and asks for immediate action by the OSM to halt imminent construction of the GTL Energy facility.

GTL Energy began construction of the coal drying plant the week of October 6, 2008.

Houston-based Great Northern Power Development submitted its coal mining permit application to the N.D. Public Service Commission earlier this fall. Great Northern is asking permission from the PSC to open a 300 acre mine near the GTL Energy coal beneficiation facility. The permit application was deemed incomplete in mid-November.

An initial review of the application shows that Great Northern had many items that it needed to address. Some of these items are the inability to access surface use and lease agreements and hydrological testing files.

In January 2009, Dakota Resource Council and local landowners filed a complaint with the North Dakota PSC challenging the South Heart Power Project. The complaint requested that the Dakota PSC require a surface mining permit for the plant, require operating and reclamation standards, and hold a public hearing. Oral arguments in the lawsuit were scheduled for July 13, 2009.[5]

In late April 2009, the state Department of Health conducted a public hearing to discuss the proposed construction permit for South Heart's coal prep plant. The majority of those who attended were opposed to the plant. South Heart had already begun building the plant, even without a final construction permit.[5]

On July 22, Judge Zane Anderson ruled in favor of Dakota Resource Council and five area landowners who appealed Stark County's approval of a land use change from agricultural to industrial use. This change would have allowed the area directly southwest of South Heart, N.D. to become an industrial area hence allowing a mine and for coal gasification and beneficiation plants. [7]

The decision by Judge Anderson states: "The requirement of written findings upon which the decision is based, is no doubt, intended to be an idle exercise," referring to the fact that the county's zoning ordinance is clear that zoning changes such as these must have a preparation of written findings, something that the Stark County Commission and its zoning board failed to do.

It also states that: "The question is whether the owners of all properties within 200 feet of the property that is the subject of the request for a zoning change must approve before any amendment to the ordinance can be granted. The county commission argues that if necessary consents were not obtained, that such an omission does not prevent approval of a zoning amendment. The county commission suggests that requirement is intended to insure that adequate notice is given and provide a straw poll of how affected landowners view the proposal."

Judge Anderson's ruling reverses and vacates the commissions zoning change because the applicant failed to get the permission of the area landowners within 200 feet of the boundary of the project.

Rushing to the rescue of the coal projects interests a zoning hearing to change the ordinance was held on August 17 with both coalies and its opponents speaking on the change. The change would eliminate the need to get permission from nearby landowners prior to changing an agricultural area to an industrial area. [8]

The zoning board refused to allow an amendment to the proposed change offered by Dakota Resource Council and its allies that would allow a zoning change to occur if 60% of the landowners within 200 feet agree. The board allowed the change to the ordinance language setting up a September 1, 2009 Stark County Commission meeting for final approval. [9]

On August 1, 2009, The Dickinson Press reported that South Heart had altered its proposal, changing its plan for a coal gasification plant back to electrical generation. Developers hope to begin construction on the plant, estimated to cost $1 billion, in 2011. Great Northern is applying for funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.[10]

Before the echos from the September Stark County Commission's aye votes had dispersed from the halls of the court house, GTL Energy applied for a new zoning change using the new ordinance that does not require the signatures of adjoining landowners. The commission voted for the change to the ordinance and before the resolution was published in the paper the zoning change application was given to the zoning director. An October 5 hearing is set regarding the zoning change. At this time there is no pending application for Great Northern's mine and coal plant zoning change.

There is still a case pending with the North Dakota Public Service Commission regarding GTL's lack of a mining permit as required by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). The attorney's involved in this case are still in the process of filing briefs. Attorney's for Dakota Resource Council are opposing GTL's motion to dismiss. No decision has been made by the PSC on these motions.

In November 2010 the company resubmitted its application for a state mining permit. If all permits are approved, the mine could be North Dakota's first in 30 years.[11]

The mine would produce approximately 2.4 million tons of coal each year for 30 years. The North Dakota's Public Service Commission is reviewing the company's second application.[12]

On November 30, 2010, North Dakota state regulators said that the permit application for the coal mine was deficient and they returned the document to developers for a second time requesting more information on reclamation, financing, mining facilities and water impacts.[13]

On January 12, 2011, state officials said South Heart’s permit application for the nearly 4,600-acre strip South Heart Mine is complete and the company also intends to construct a power plant, the South Heart Power Project, next door. Rich Southwick, environmental vice president for GNPD, said the coal plant will process 2.4 million tons per year. While the coal gasification process in the original plans would have converted the coal gasification to methane, it will instead be converted to hydrogen, Southwick said. The captured carbon will then be piped to oil fields in the Williston Basin for enhanced oil recovery. The facility is intended to serve electric power needs of people and industries of North Dakota and the Upper Midwest. Southwick said the 350-acre plant would take about four years to construct. Construction is not expected to commence before July 2013. The application’s completeness does not mean a permit is approved.[14]

In March 2011, a group of concerned citizens hand delivered almost 3,000 postcards to the North Dakota Public Service Commission, asking the PSC to deny the proposed coal mine and power plant's permit application. The group says it received a letter from the federal Bureau of Land Management, which said the original permit application does not discuss how the mining will affect nearby federal coal tracts.[15]

Chronology

The following chronology was developed by Mary Hodell and published by Plains Justice:[16]

January 12, 2011: The North Dakota Public Service Commission (PSC) deems South Heart Coal's permit application complete.

November 30, 2010: The North Dakota PSC returns South Heart Coal's permit application due to 7 deficiencies.

October 28, 2010: South Heart Coal files another revised mining permit application with the North Dakota Public Service Commission (PSC) in Bismarck.

June 15, 2010: Stark County Commission holds an “executive meeting” with outside attorney, and decides to make a “clarification” on April 2010 rezoning order. They decide that what they meant their decision to mean was that the area is rezoned, prior to getting other required permits.

April 28, 2010: PSC finds 37 deficiencies in South Heart Coal mining application and returns it for a second time. Company representatives say they will submit a corrected application within the month.

April 6, 2010: Stark County Commission votes to approve zoning change, with four conditions including obtaining all state permits. Great Northern Power Development (GNPD) representatives are clearly unhappy, and try to convince the commission that they cannot move forward unless the county rezones. Opposition presents commission with PSC statement saying GNPD does not need county approval before going for state permits.

April 5, 2010: County zoning board approves rezoning for GNPD, with the original four conditions. The State’s Attorney coaches the board to cite how they came to their conclusion, to avoid an appeal.

March 30, 2010: GNPD/South Heart Coal submits its second strip mining application to PSC. This time around, it’s for 7700 acres.

February 25, 2010: GNPD reapplies for zoning change and conditional use permit.

February 24, 2010: PSC dismisses Dakota Resource Council (DRC) appeal on jurisdiction concern.

February 2, 2010: County decides to rewrite the comprehensive plan.

January 27, 2010: GNPD withdraws zoning amendment application.

November 22, 2009: GNPD applies for rezoning for 7700 acres, and includes an application for a conditional use permit, with nine conditional uses. They are: Chemical fertilizer plant; coal gasification or conversion plant; coal mine; electric power generating plant; Liquid, gas bulk, explosive, highly compressed or other hazardous material storage; Mineral and other substance exploration or excavation and mining; solid waste landfill; manufacture of hazardous products; manufacture of odorous products.

October 6, 2009: County approves rezoning for GTL Energy coal “beneficiation” plant.

September 2, 2009: County approves rewritten zoning ordinance. Less than two hours later, GTL applies for zoning change, for approximately 40 acres.

August 17, 2009: County holds public hearing on rewriting the zoning rule requiring written approval. It is pointed out to the commission that despite the judge’s decision, GTL is continuing construction when they no longer have the required permits. County takes no action against GTL.

August 11, 2009: Stark County Commission decides to rewrite the zoning rule.

August 1, 2009: GNPD announces another change in plans. This time the plant will be a coal to hydrogen electricity plant.

July 22, 2009: Judge Zane Anderson overturns the county’s zoning decision, citing a lack of written findings as well as not following the zoning ordinance requiring written approval of all landowners within 200 feet of the requested rezoning area. Dickinson Press headlines quote State’s Attorney Tom Henning saying “The project is dead in the water.”

May 6, 2009: Stark County and GTL sign road agreement holding GTL responsible for improvements and maintenance to three miles of 39th St SW.

April 28, 2009: ND State Health Department holds public hearing on the air quality permit applied for by GTL. Opposition packs the room, with yellow t-shirts showing unity.

March 25, 2009: GNPD withdraws mining application, to show that they and GTL are not working together or connected in any way.

January 22, 2009: Plains Justice, under direction from OSM, asks PSC on behalf of Dakota Resource Council to reconsider the decision that GTL does not fall under PSC jurisdiction.

November 15, 2008: PSC returns mining application to GNPD, citing 69 errors and deficiencies. GNPD vice president Rich Voss tells the Dickinson Press: “We don’t think this is going to slow us down at all.” He estimates it will take a year to complete the application correctly.

October 15, 2008: GNPD files application for a mining permit for 275 acres.

October 14, 2008: GTL holds public meeting at South Heart Golf Course, 10:00am, on a Tuesday.

October 4, 2008: Plains Justice, on behalf of DRC, asks the Office of Surface Mining to overturn PSC decision that GTL does not fall under PSC jurisdiction.

September 2, 2008: County approves GTL rezoning request with four conditions, adding the condition of a written road agreement.

August 28, 2008: Public meeting held for rezoning request. Despite overwhelming opposition, and a room packed with yellow t-shirts, the board votes to recommend the zoning change. The board creates three conditions:

1. GTL Energy obtains all required approvals and permits from appropriate state agencies. 2. The Stark County State’s Attorney must review the application and make sure it complies with all the county ordinances. 3. GTL must hold a public informational meeting in South Heart.

August 15, 2008: Rezoning request is made by GTL. Approximately 40 acres is requested for rezoning.

August 5, 2008: Stark County Zoning board denies Stevenson Funeral Home a permit to open a crematorium. Then Commissioner George Nodland says “The purpose of this ordinance is to promote the public health, safety and welfare of the people of Stark County. To secure the orderly development of the county and to provide the sound and appropriate use of land,” Nodland read. He then stated the definition to the board. “It says the health, the happiness and the general well-being,” Nodland said. “Well that kind of hit home today.”

July 28, 2008: GTL writes to PSC double checking that they would not fall under PSC jurisdiction, claiming that their beneficiation plant would not be tied to any one mine and therefore should not be regulated as part of a minemouth coal processing operation. PSC agrees with GTLs assumption.

May 21, 2008: Westmoreland Coal Company withdraws from Lignite Vision 21 program and scraps plans to build a 500 MW coal plant near Gascoyne. Amongst stated reasons, close proximity to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and concerns about the effect on air quality helped make the decision.

May 3, 2008: ND Attorney General opinion states Stark County Commission violated open meeting laws by holding closed door GNPD meeting.

April 30, 2008: DRC and area landowners file appeal on county decision.

April 8, 2008: County recreates GNPD closed door meeting. Neighbors United gets on the county meeting agenda and makes attempt to convince county to hold off on the rezoning until all the state permits are applied for. County approves rezone request, with four conditions:

1. GNPD obtains all necessary local, state, and federal permits first.

2. GNPD agrees in writing to replace all water lost from the mining.

3. GNPD builds and maintains all necessary roads, to the specifications of the Stark County Commission.

4. GNPD will work in concert with local law enforcement and emergency services, to facilitate public safety.

April 3, 2008: GNPD and GTL announce, in a joint press release, the selected technology for the gasification plant. Announced GNPD would seek “direct ownership” in said technology.

March 4, 2008: County decides to grant rezone request, but since it appears they will be found in violation of open meeting laws, they decide to table the decision until the illegal meeting is recreated.

February 20, 2008: GNPD holds second public meeting in Dickinson.

January 24, 2008: GNPD holds public meeting at South Heart School. Details about the project or plant are not announced, as they “haven’t been nailed down yet.” GNPD states its plan to start construction in the spring of 2009, and be mining in 2010.

January 3, 2008: Stark County Zoning Board holds public hearing on rezoning. Opposition outnumbers supporters and the board unanimously voted to table the decision until GNPD held some public meetings.

December 14, 2007: GNPD holds private meeting with Dickinson business people, South Heart City Commissioners, and Stark County Commission. Dakota Resource Council (DRC) requests Attorney General opinion, as a quorum of the county commission was present.

December 2007: Opponents of the coal project circulate a petition, gathering signatures requesting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Many supporters of the project also sign, agreeing there is no harm in finding out more about the project before it goes through.

November 20, 2007: GNPD announces intention to change project from coal power to coal gasification.

November 12, 2007: GNPD applies for zoning change to rezone from Agricultural to Industrial.

August 20, 2007: South Heart Coal withdraws air quality permit.

August 18, 2005: South Heart Coal files for an air quality permit with State Health Dept. to build a 500 MW coal fired power plant.

August 20, 2003: GNPD holds a public meeting in Dickinson.

August 19, 2003: GNPD holds a public meeting in South Heart, giving a rough outline of their planned coal mine and power plant project.

May 7, 2003: Bismarck Tribune article announces GNPD will be breaking ground for 500 MW coal plant in 2005. Mentions GNPD has received $1.3 million from Lignite Vision 21 program.

April 26, 2002: GNPD sends letter to EPA, trying to get them to change the way they measure pollution in North Dakota.

October 2, 2001: GNPD gets coal leases signed by South Heart area landowners.

Dakota Resource Council Urges Stepped Up Reclamation Efforts

Dakota Resource Council urged the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) last week to take a close look at a possible coal mining application near South Heart and a pattern of long delays in meeting state and federal reclamation standards at North Dakota coal mines. The “hydrological consequences” of mining near South Heart are of special concern, DRC said in its comments to OSM’s Casper Field Office, because the area relies on shallow livestock wells that would be disturbed by surface mining. [17]

“Without access to water, cow-calf operators like us would be out of business,” said Frank Hurt, South Heart, who, along with his brother George, backgrounds cattle south of South Heart.

South Heart Coal Company filed a mining permit application for a mine near the Hurt’s ranch March 29, but Public Service Commission sent it back because of 37 errors. An earlier application by the company was sent back with 67 errors and later withdrawn.

DRC also urged the Casper Field Office to get to the bottom of long delays in final bond release applications, which call for mining companies to demonstrate completion of all reclamation requirements, including agricultural productivity and replacement of water supplies interrupted, contaminated or diminished by mining.

Less than 13% of land permitted for mining in the state over the past 30 years has undergone final bond release according to PSC statistics from January 1. Only one-third of the land released from bond was actually disturbed by mining.

Of the disturbed land released from bond, only two- thirds has gone into agricultural use.“History shows us once farmland is taken out of production for coal mining, we won’t be getting it back,” said Hurt.

Although some lands still under bond are being farmed, the public has no access to records demonstrating agricultural performance. DRC asked OSM to consider overhauling bonding procedures to ensure that enough bond remains to protect the public against possible failure to achieve required agricultural productivity.

DRC also urged study of soil reclamation procedures to make sure they are keeping up with progress in soil science. The comments were filed in response to OSM’s call for suggestions for its 2011 oversight plan for North Dakota.


Project Details

Sponsor: South Heart Coal (Great Northern Power Development)
Location: Stark County, ND
Type: Coal-to-gas
Capacity:
Status: Original proposal (electrical generation) canceled; new proposal (coal-to-gas) changed back to electrical generation

Financing

Citizen Groups

Resources

References

  1. "Where are the 150+ planned new U.S. coal plants?", Rising Tide North America, February 15, 2007.
  2. "Lignite Mine permit" Coaldiver.org, accessed November 2010.
  3. South Heart on Life Support", Dakota Counsel, August 2007. (Pdf)
  4. "Proposed Plant at South Heart in Clean Air 'Margin'", Bismarck Tribune, September 10, 2005.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Stopping the Coal Rush", Sierra Club, accessed December 2007. (This is a Sierra Club list of new coal plant proposals.)
  6. "South Heart Under Appeal," Dakota Counsel, April 2008
  7. "Ruling halts ND coaldrying plant," Associated Press, July 23, 2009
  8. [1] KFYR TV, August 19, 2009
  9. [2] "Zoning approves word change," The Dickinson Press, (viewing of this article requires subscription fee) August 17, 2009
  10. "South Heart coal gasification — coal on the wires,"nocapx2020 August 1, 2009
  11. "Coal plant permit back on table iStockAnaluist, November 5, 2010.
  12. "Company seeks new coal mine in southwest ND" Associated Press, March 31, 2010.
  13. James MacPherson, "North Dakota regulators: Coal mine permit lacking" Bloomberg, Nov. 30, 2010.
  14. Lisa Anne Call, "Coal mine finishes application process" The Dickinson Press, January 13, 2011.
  15. Brain Howell, "ND Group Protests Proposed South Heart Coal Mine" KFYR, March 15, 2011.
  16. "South Heart Coal Project: Milestones from a long fight not yet over," Plains Justice, November 4, 2010
  17. "DRC TELLS FEDS: STEP UP RECLAMATION WORK," Dakota Counsel, August 2010

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