2012 Excellence in Surface Coal Mining Award Winners
The Excellence in Surface Coal Mining Awards are presented to coal mining companies that achieve the most exemplary mining and reclamation in the country.
The National Awards are presented to coal mining companies for achieving exemplary mining and reclamation practices. A coal mining operation may be nominated for achievement in a specific aspect of reclamation, or for overall performance in meeting goals of the Surface Mining Law.
Good Neighbor Award Winner Antelope, Cordero Rojo, and Spring Creek Mines - Cloud Peak Energy holding a school group tour to promote understanding of the mining and reclamation process.
National Award Winner North Antelope Rochelle Mine - Golden eagle chick sits in a nest near the rail line serving North Antelope.
The Good Neighbor Awards are presented to coal companies that successfully work with the surrounding land owners and the community while completing mining and reclamation.
OSMRE Director Joe Pizarchik provided the keynote address and presented the awards on September 24th in Des Moines, IA, as part of the National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs conference, September 23-26.
The winners of the 2012 Excellence in Surface Coal Mining Awards
Mid-Continent Regional Award Winner: Cottage Grove Mine, Peabody Energy, Equality, Illinois
The National Award for Excellence in Surface Coal Mining was presented to the Cottage Grove Mine, a Peabody Energy Coal Company near Equality Illinois.
The project is actually five different mine sites near the town of Equality. Peabody carries out active mining 24 hours a day on the site, which is more than 3500 acres. Approximately 250 people work in the area, producing coal from seams that go as deep as 120 feet. The mine produces about 2.3 million tons of coal each year. About 85% of Cottage Grove sits on prime farmland, and because the mine complex is located in some of the most productive agricultural land in Illinois, it can be difficult to meet Federal post-mining Proof of Productivity standards.
To address that challenge, Peabody investigated soil conditions before mining started, and decided to remove all topsoil from the area. It then stored the topsoil in stockpiles. After mining was completed, the company used the unconsolidated topsoil as rooting medium for new plant life. Using trucks, then pressure dozers and eventually Caterpillars equipped with GPS units, workers spread the retained topsoil to specified depths and contours. It then planted a wide variety of alfalfa, orchard grass, medium red clover, alsike clover, perennial ryegrass and winter rye to produce hay. Periodic mowing of the hay provides ground cover, food for insect life, and prevents erosion.
The company maintains the hay crops for two years to ensure the reclaimed land will meet the required productivity standards. Then, when conditions are right, they rip the field and allow it to sit another year. This is the final preparation for the return of row crops. From 2004 until 2010, the fields produced 64 successful hay yields before they were allowed to lie fallow. During this down time, the field provided food for wildlife, and geese, deer, and other animals have returned to Cottage Grove.
Today, many of these same fields are used to grow corn, and those yields have averaged over 200 bushels per acre, well above the county average. As for the company, it has transferred many of its techniques to other mine sites, allowing those sites to see similar reclamation successes.
Visit the Peabody Energy website at http://www.peabodyenergy.com/
Western Regional Award Winner: Dave Johnston Mine, Glenrock Coal Company, Glenrock, Wyoming
The National Award for Excellence in Surface Coal Mining was presented to the Dave Johnston Mine, a Glenrock Coal Company facility in Glenrock, Wyoming.
The Dave Johnston mine, which began operation in 1958, is located 14 miles north of Glenrock, covering more than 13-thousand acres, all of which are more than a mile above sea level. Typical of Wyoming, weather can be severe, with temperatures ranging from minus 30 in winter to 98 during a hot summer day, and winds average 15 miles per hour - every day.
Glenrock ended operations at the mine in September 2000, after exposing almost 5000 acres of short-grass prairie to produce more than 104 million tons of coal. But the company actually began reclamation on the mine in 1965, while still producing coal. By 2000, Glenrock had reclaimed about a third of the disturbed area. The remaining 3100 acres were reclaimed between 2000 and 2005.
During reclamation, workers noticed ephemeral water seeping from highwalls. This led to the innovative water capture concept.
Looking at photos 35 years apart, there is a stark contrast between the time when the mine was in operation, and as it stands today. But that is only part of the story. The mine sits in a semi arid portion of Wyoming, averaging 10 inches of precipitation each year. There are no permanent streams in the mine area, and only a few ephemeral watersheds. So, the pre-mining vegetation is sparse.
Typically, most western mine reclamation plans have focused on growing grass quickly to stabilize the soil. But that does not necessarily serve the entire ecosystem’s needs. As always, water, or the lack of it, will determine how much and how well reclamation can be done. When crews began backfilling the Dave Johnston mine, they noticed something; weeps were forming in highwalls and other areas. Water – that could be captured for use in reclamation.
Between 2001 and 2004, the company developed six of the weep areas into man-made springs. Using three different capture methods, the company placed discharge pipes into the soil, then built outfall tanks using old haul truck tires to hold the water. Each of the tanks provided between 12 and 17 gallons of water an hour, beginning in 2002.
Today, with all six providing water on a consistent basis, the mine site is home to mule deer, antelope, grouse, and other birds of prey. In addition, the mine is still producing electricity. It is home to 158 wind turbines constantly turning. 45 of those are on the reclaimed mine site.
National Award Winner: North Antelope Rochelle Mine, Peabody Powder River Mining, LLC, Wright, Wyoming
One of the raptor species the company studied during its emphasis on protecting bird of prey populations. This ferruginous hawk was tracked via a small transmitter.
The North Antelope complex is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including its namesake, the Pronghorn antelope.
The National Award for Excellence in Surface Coal Mining was presented to the North Antelope Rochelle Mine, a Peabody Energy Coal Company facility in Wright, Wyoming.
The complex is actually two mining permits merged into one. The original North Antelope mine began operations in 1983. The Rochelle mine started in 1985. The company merged the two in 1999, and together, they produced 109 million tons of coal in 2011. The complex employs approximately 1300 people. The complex is also large, with 46-thousand acres permitted. The area, about 65 miles southeast of Gillette, is semi-arid, but supports several forms of shrubs and grasses. The resident wildlife population includes mule deer, pronghorn, elk, sage-grouse, and numerous raptor species, including a variety of eagles, hawks, owls, and kestrels.
Since Peabody began operations, it has reclaimed about 6000 acres, primarily for use as livestock grazing land. The company also recognizes the need to promote and enhance wildlife habitat, including building reservoirs, wetlands and planting vegetation.
The company took a special interest in state and federal requirements that protect raptors during and after mining. Peabody carried out baseline wildlife studies prior to mining and documented 245 raptor nests in approximately 117 square miles. The company identified potential disturbances for nesting raptors, hired and funded a wildlife consultant, and developed mitigation plans to minimize the impacts of coal production.
To help raptor breeding continue, the company made development of potential nest areas a priority, and also planned to move some nests as mining progressed. One method of keeping mated pairs near the area included building and installing artificial nest platforms. The company also contracted and funded a local non-profit bird rescue and rehabilitation facility.
The success of the mitigation program is easily visible. Despite continued mining, the company has successfully maintained viable eagle, hawk, owl, and kestrel populations onsite. And, Peabody believes, it has developed a regime that is easily transferable across different kinds of mining and national borders.
Good Neighbor Award Winner: Alcoa Sandow Mine, Alcoa, Inc., Rockdale, Texas
The Good Neighbor Award for Excellence in Surface Coal Mining was presented to the Alcoa Sandow Mine, an Alcoa, Inc. Company in Rockdale, Texas.
Although better known for its aluminum products than coal mining, coal plays a key role in ALCOA’s business. The company’s Sandow Texas mine is 17,000 acres. ALCOA has mined about 12-thousand of those, producing more than 200 million tons of lignite coal, which ALCOA burned to produce 25 billion pounds of aluminum.
Beginning in the early 1970’s, before federal reclamation standards existed, ALCOA began its reclamation efforts by leveraging community groups, including the Boy Scouts, to plant trees and help develop water resources. Some of those former Scouts later became ALCOA employees. In 2000, ALCOA developed companywide sustainability targets that furthered its reclamation efforts. Those targets were designed to engage local communities.
In 2003, ALCOA formed a Community Advisory Panel for its Rockdale operation. 15 people serve on the panel which was established to provide a forum for citizens to ask questions and for the company to provide information to citizens. Panel meetings are open to the public and media. In 2003, the company also began its ten million trees program, with a goal of planting the specified number of trees around the globe by 2020.
Sandow Mine has a longtime relationship with the Boy Scouts. Here, a Scout plants a tree on the Texas site.
ALCOA also submits annual Wildlife Management Plans, working closely with Texas state biologists. Some of the work includes doing animal census counts, providing supplemental food and water when needed, and enhancing land to provide both water and food crops for a variety of species. ALCOA has also developed a bee pollination program. The program supports several hives on reclaimed coal mines that produce honey, which is then distributed to employees and the community.
Most recently, ALCOA introduced its Green Works initiative. In April 2011, the company held an activity day to promote sustainability and environmental stewardship. Echoing its past efforts, the company invited 21 Boy Scouts, several families and the Milam County Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Warden to take part in reclamation-related activities.
The day included stocking fish in one of the mine’s lakes, and transferring 200 fish from one existing pond to another, a move made necessary because of drought conditions. The groups also planted 200 tree seedlings, including cedar elm, bald cypress, willow oak, wax myrtle and water oak trees. Each participant was also given a tree to take home. Finally, ALCOA also presented the Boy Scout troop that participated in the event with a grant to continue its activities.
Good Neighbor Award Winner: Antelope, Cordero Rojo, and Spring Creek Mines, Cloud Peak Energy Resources LLC, Gillette, Wyoming
Participants at Cloud Peak's workshop on building shrub habitat. In this photo, instructors are discussing how to optimize seeding.
To fulfill its commitment of public education on mining and reclamation, the company developed an interactive display and operated a booth at the Wyoming State Fair.
The Good Neighbor award was presented to the Antelope, Cordero Rojo, and Spring Creek Mines, owned by Cloud Peak Energy Resources in Gillette, Wyoming.
Of the three mines in the Cloud Peak group, two are in Wyoming and one is in Montana. The three sites employ about 1500 people. It is because of the distance between the mines and the size of the workforce that Cloud Peak determined it needed to do extensive community outreach.
Part of its environmental effort included work on building new shrub habitat on reclaimed areas. In semi-arid climates, it is sometimes difficult to establish native plant populations. Cloud Peak has developed successful methods to building shrub habitat, and held a workshop with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and Wyoming state agencies to help spread the use of the technique.
As part of its community efforts, Cloud Peak also developed museum based interactive displays to explain how coal mining and reclamation is done. The company held awareness events with school science events, on Earth Day, at the Wyoming State Fair, and with the Montana Audubon Nature Center. As part of its public service activities, Cloud Peak also contributed to organizations such as the American Legion Auxiliary, the Converse County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and Skills-USA, which provides practical education opportunities that often lead to mining related jobs.
When flooding struck northeast Wyoming and Southeast Montana, Cloud Peak also donated food supplies and water to those affected, and helped coordinate and deliver supplies to evacuee centers.
The company also provided more than 60-thousand dollars to the Montana and Wyoming Meth Projects, which are designed to prevent teenagers from using or becoming addicted to methamphetamine.
Finally, the company provided almost a half-million dollars in donations to a wide variety of community organizations, ranging from the Boys and Girls Clubs, to economic development non-profits, to a long list of medical and health service organizations, and to the Salvation Army.
The company said that helping increase public knowledge of the coal industry and reclamation, promoting science and education, and helping build healthy communities is in the company’s and the industry’s best interests to keep coal mining as a sustainable industry.
The company helped Wyoming's Gillette College develop the curriculum for a Mine Technology degree program. Some Cloud Peak employees also served as course instructors.