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Elk Creek Mine

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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.

The Elk Creek Mine is an underground coal mine in the North Fork Valley in western Colorado. The mine was owned and operated by Oxbow Mining, a subsidiary of the Oxbow Corporation, a privately-owned company which was founded by William I. Koch, who is the brother of David Koch and Charles Koch, billionaire fraternal twin brothers who operate Koch Industries.[1]

On its website, Oxbow Corporation states that the mine "produces 6 million tons of high-quality bituminous coal annually. The D-seam coal from this underground mining operation has high BTU content and is low in ash, sulfur and mercury ... Situated just north of the historic Somerset mine, Elk Creek is expected to produce more than 60 million tons of high quality coal from privately held and federally leased tracts over the next 10 years. Currently, Elk Creek’s production is on pace to make it one of the top five producing underground coal mines in the United States. Elk Creek coal quality has averaged consistently high BTU."[2]

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History

Opened in 2003 by the Oxbow Mining company as a replacement for the Sanborn Creek Mine.[3]

Mine Data

  • Owner:Oxbow Mining
  • Parent company: Oxbow Corporation
  • Location: near Somerset in Gunnison County, Colorado
  • GPS coordinates: 38.94, -107.47
  • Production: 2.5 million short tons (2007)
  • Type of coal: "clean" low sulfur coal
  • Mine type: Underground
  • Equipment: Longwall
  • Number of employees:

Contact Details

Elk Creek Mine
3737 Highway 133 - P.O. Box 535
Somerset, CO 81434
Tel: (970) 929-5122
Fax: (970) 929-5177
E-mail: info AT oxbow.com

Challenges to mine

In Feb. 2011, the Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians filed an appeal with the Board of Land Appeals, challenging the Bureau of Land Management's approved expansion of the Elk Creek mine. The groups say the BLM didn't adequately consider how expanded mining and the combustion of the mined coal would affect air quality. The mine's operator, Oxbow Mining, said the expansion would extend coal mining at current levels by a year.[4]

In March 2011, as a result of the environmentalists' appeal, the BLM announced that they would take another look at the mining expansion and its likely impacts on local air quality.[5]

Mine expansion approved

In March 2012, the 786 acres of federal coal deposits at the Elk Creek Mine leased by the BLM to Oxbow was upheld by a review board.[6]

Mining safety violations

The Oxbow Corporation operates the Elk Creek Mine in Western Colorado. According to Greenpeace,

Oxbow’s Elk Creek Mine has been cited with over 2000 violations by the Mine Safety and

Health Administration. Oxbow has paid over $960,000 in fines since beginning the operation of the mine ten years ago. Of the 2000 violations, over 400 were deemed “significant and substantial,” meaning they could result in injury or death. One single violation of mine ventilation regulations in March 2010 cost Oxbow a penalty of $45,000.18 Explosive coal-dust buildup, excessive methane, in adequate ventilation, and poor maintenance including fire extinguishers, were among the violations, according to MSHA’s database. Such “significant and substantial” violations can lead to injuries and tragic fatalities. Though the MSHA investigation has not been completed, excessive methane and improper ventilation were recurring problems at Massey Coal’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, where 29 miners were killed in an explosion in April 2010.19 In the last decade, the only two fatalities in Colorado coal mines occurred at Oxbow opera- tions.20 The Associated Press reported the death of a 37-year old miner in December 2000 at Oxbow Mining’s Sanborn Creek Mine, likely due to a faulty fitting on a high-pressure hose.21 At the

Elk Creek Mine, a 26-year-old miner died in January 2007 when a bundle of materials fell on him.[7]

Mining expansion into protected forest

In 2009, a subsidiary of the Oxbow Group requested to expand the Elk Creek Mine into a federally protected roadless area of the Gunnison National Forest. Oxbow requested permission to build into the area in order to drill methane vents for their underground coal mine expansion. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, eventually approved the roadless rule exemption for Oxbow’s Elk Creek mine in May 2010."[7]

Lawsuit filed against rail companies

In June 2011 the Oxbow filed a lawsuit against Union Pacific Railroad and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company. Oxbow accused the railroad companies of working together to drive up the cost of shipping coal.[8]

Articles and resources

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References

  1. Greenpeace.org Bill Koch: the Dirty Money Behind the Cape Win Opposition, Report. 2010. Accessed February 28, 2010
  2. Oxbow Corporation, "Mining", Oxbow Corporation website, accessed June 2009.
  3. Union Pacific, "Elk Creek Mine", Union Pacific website, accessed June 2009.
  4. "Groups challenge Colorado coal mine expansion" Charleston Gazette, feb. 23, 2011.
  5. [http://earthjustice.org/blog/2011-march/a-chance-to-do-it-right-on-western-coal "BLM gives Colorado coal mine expansion a second look"> Ted Zukoski, Earthjustice, March 16, 2011.
  6. Mark Jaffe, "Gunnison County coal mine expansion gets federal go-ahead," The Denver Post, March 28, 2012.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Greenpeace.org Bill Koch: the Dirty Money Behind the Cape Win Opposition, Report. 2010. Accessed February 28, 2010
  8. "Owners of Colorado mine sue railroads over coal shipping costs" Cathy Proctor, Denver Business Journal, June 9, 2011.

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