Utah coal mine with Colorado ties shut down due to dangerous methane levels

Federal regulators late last week shut down a Utah coal mine owned by a company that also owns Colorado’s West Elk Mine, citing elevated levels of carbon monoxide and methane gas.

A dangerous “hot spot” in a mined-out area of the Dugout Canyon coal mine in east-central Utah prompted the Mine Safety and Health Administration to order the closure of the mine and flooding of the affected area, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Dugout owner Arch Coal, the nation’s second largest coal producer, also owns the West Elk Mine near Somerset, Colo., and has been given the go-ahead by the Interior Department to begin the environmental regulatory process necessary to expand that mine.

West Elk, located along the North Fork of the Gunnison River, has received several safety and environmental awards, but environmental groups had sued to require either the capture or venting of methane gas from the mine.

The gas is highly explosive when mixed with air and is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Capture rather than venting is expensive but can be offset by selling the gas; however, most coal companies maintain methane capture is impractical at this stage.

Arch Coal’s West Elk mine was not on a list of problem mines targeted by surprise inspections in the wake of last month’s deadly coal mine explosion in West Virginia. In fact, only one Colorado coal mine made that list of 57 mines nationwide. Three mines in Utah were targeted, but not the Dugout, and no other Arch Coal mines were on the list.

St. Louis-based Arch Coal is interested in expanding its Colorado operations into the Bookcliffs area northwest of Grand Junction, as revealed in documents related to efforts by CAM Colorado to expand the McClane Canyon Mine into a nearby coal seam called the Red Cliff Mine.

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