powder river basin coal mine

linking prb and bush’s energy plan


geological description, us water test (cohort?)



powder river basin coalition




The Powder River Basin stretches for over 14 million acres from the peaks of Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains to the Yellowstone River in Montana. The region is a landscape of grass covered plains, rolling hills, wide, flat streambeds and broad floodplains. For centuries, Native Americans lived and hunted here and for nearly 200 years, generations of homesteaders have ranched and farmed these high plains and continue to do so today.

Tongue River

Coal bed methane mining has been identified as the single largest threat to the environmental health of this region. The region has recently become the most active area in the country for such gas development (USGS 2002, Klinkenborg 2003). However, the region is also experiencing extreme drought, water shortages, habitat fragmentation and a push to develop the unprecedented coal resources that are found in the Basin.

Coal bed methane (CBM) is methane gas (natural gas) trapped within coal deposits. Production of CBM requires wells, access roads, utility lines, pipelines, containment ponds, generators, and compressor stations. CBM production affects water quantity and quality and disturbs the landscape, and it has implications for dust, fire, noise, light pollution, spread of noxious weeds, impacts on schools, housing, and the well being of fish and wildlife populations (Montana Game and Fish).

The most devastating aspect of this rush for a new source of natural gas is what it does to the region’s water table. The extraction of CBM requires larger amounts of water. According to the Powder River Basin Resource Council, CBM wells pump water 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at an average of 12 gallons per minute per well. The wells can produce as much as 70 gallons per minute. Artesian wells that have supplied humans and livestock with warm but potable water for generations dry up almost overnight when water is pumped off the coal to release methane in addition to methane contaminated wells. Earth scientists offer predictions of ten to a hundred years for recovery of these wells which is unacceptable to ranchers and farmers who rely on that water for their livelihoods.

In addition to human impacts, wildlife is under great stress from energy development in the region. Studies show that the Greater Sage Grouse populations have plunged 68 percent from 2000 to 2005 in areas of coal-bed methane activity in the Powder River Basin. Discharging CBM water into rivers and streams may harm fisheries, depending on the tolerance of the fish (and the insects and organisms they eat) for increased salinity and changing water temperature. Some 45 fish species live in the Powder, Tongue, and Rosebud rivers (Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks). CBM produced water also has the potential for adverse impacts on plant species of cultural significance to the tribes, such as chokecherry.

The Powder River Basin’s historical sites are also under pressure of energy development. Rosebud Battlefield, Deer Medicine Rock, Reynolds Battlefield, Wolf Mountain Battlefield are all in the region. These sites are important culturally, ecologically and historically to the tribes and the citizens of the region.

organizing and resistance:








From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The Powder River Basin

The Powder River Basin is a region in southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming, about 120 miles (190 km) east to west and 200 miles (320 km) north to south, known for its coal deposits. It is both a topographic drainage and geologicstructural basin. The basin is so named because it is drained by the Powder River, although it is also drained in part by the Cheyenne RiverTongue RiverBighorn RiverLittle Missouri RiverPlatte River, and their tributaries.

Major cities in the area include GilletteSheridan, Wyoming and Miles City, Montana. The area is very sparsely populated and is known for its rolling grasslands and semiarid climate.

It is the single largest source of coal mined in the United States, and contains one of the largest deposits of coal in the world. Most of the active coal mining in the Powder River Basin actually takes place in drainages of the Cheyenne River. Because of the Powder River Basin, Wyoming has been the top coal-producing state in the United States since 1988. In 2007, the Powder River Basin alone produced 436 million short tons (396 million tonnes) of coal, more than twice the production of second-place West Virginia, and more than the entire Appalachian region.[1] The Black Thunder Coal Mineis the most productive coal mine in the United States; in 2006 this single mine produced 84 million metric tons of coal, more than any state except Wyoming, West Virginia, and Kentucky.[2]



Powder River Basin coal is classified as “sub-bituminous” and contains an average of approximately 8,500 btu/ton, with low SO2. Contrast this with eastern, Appalachian bituminous coal containing an average of 12,500 btu/ton and high SO2. A coal-fired plant designed to burn Appalachian coal must be modified to burn PRB coal at a cost estimated in 1999 to be around $113 per ton of SO2 removal.[1]



U.S. Departments of Energy, Interior and Agriculture

The Powder River Basin is the largest coal mining region in the United States, but most of the coal is buried too deeply to be economically accessible.[3] The Powder River Basin coal beds are shaped like elongated bowls and as mines expand from east to west in the Powder River Basin, they will be going “down the sides of the bowl.” This means that the overburden (rock lying over the coal) will increase as will the stripping ratio (the ratio of rock that needs to be moved to get to a ton of coal.)

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has conducted a series of studies on the economic accessibility of coal in the major coal producing regions of the country. The studies have typically found that only a small fraction of the coal will be economically accessible at the current price of $10.47/ton. In August 2008, the USGS issued an updated assessment of coal in the Powder River Basin.[4] After considering stripping ratios and production costs, the USGS concluded that at the time of the economic evaluation, only 6 percent of the original resource, or 10.1 billion tons of coal, was currently economically recoverable. At a price of $60/ton, roughly half (48%) of the coal is economic to produce.

Presently the approximately 15 mines in the Powder River Basin are working in areas where the stripping ratio is between 1:1 (i.e. one ton of rock for one ton of coal)and 3:1[5] As the mines expand the stripping ratio will increase. As more rock needs to be moved (using large electrically powered draglines and diesel and electric mining trucks) the production cost will also increase.[6]

The United States uses about 1 billion tons of coal a year, with about 40 percent of the coal currently coming from the Powder River Basin.[7] The amount of coal coming from the Powder River Basin has been increasing over the last 20 years.[7]

Increasing the price paid for coal can increase the amount of economically recoverable coal, but increasing the price of coal will also increase the production cost for the coal. In addition, because coal is a solid, not a liquid, it cannot be produced from many scattered wells as oil and gas can be. Rather, coal has to be produced from mines that expand slowly by moving massive quantities of dirt.

The mines in the Powder River Basin typically have less than 20 years of life remaining. Almost all of the coal in the Powder River Basin is federally owned and further mine expansions will require a series of federal and state approvals,[8] as well as large investments in additional mine equipment to begin the excavations.

The majority of the coal mined in the Powder River Basin is part of the Fort Union Formation (Paleocene), with the low sulfur and ash content of the coal in the region making it very desirable. Coal supplies about half of the United States‘ electricity supplies, with the Powder River Basin mines supplying around 40 percent of the coal that fuels those stations, mainly to the east of the Rocky Mountains, for generating electricity.[9]

[edit]Coal mining companies currently operating in the Powder River Basin

[edit]Coal-hauling train lines

Coal moves by the thousands of tons across the High Plains from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin to power plants in the Midwest and South. There is aBNSF route (between Newcastle, Wyoming and Alliance, Nebraska, including the climb over Crawford Hill, Nebraska) and a Union Pacific route.[10]




  1. ^ N. R. Jones and others, “Wyoming,” Mining Engineering, May 2008, p.134.
  2. ^ E. Freme, Coal review, Mining Engineering, May 2007, p.52.
  3. ^ Inventory of Assessed Federal Coal Resources and Restrictions to Their Development. U.S. Departments of Energy, Interior and Agriculture. Report., page ix
  4. ^ James A. Luppens, David C. Scott, Jon E. Haacke, Lee M. Osmonson, Timothy J. Rohrbacher, and Margaret S. Ellis. “Assessment of Coal Geology, Resources, and Reserves in the Gillette Coalfield, Powder River Basin, Wyoming“.
  5. ^ Luppens, Scott, Haacke, Osmonson, Rohrbacher, Ellis: Figure 62
  6. ^ Luppens, Scott, Haacke, Osmonson, Rohrbacher, Ellis: Page 25 and Table 4
  7. a b U.S. Coal Supply and Demand“. Energy Information Administration.
  8. ^ http://www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/info/NEPA/cfodocs.html
  9. a b Rails cause utility fuel shortages, electricity rate hikeRail Cure – August 2005
  10. ^ http://www.pentrex.com/plains.html
  11. ^ US Energy Information Administration, Top 100 oil and gas fields, PDF file, retrieved 18 February 2009.
  12. ^ Coal: Dig It Up, Move It, Burn It – Wyoming’s Powder River Basin
  13. ^ Coal News and Markets“. United States Energy Information Administration. 2008-10-14. Retrieved on 2008-10-17.
  14. ^ Railroad Battle Brewing
  15. ^ PRB Coal Update: BNSF Completes Third Main Track on Joint Line BNSF News – 5 November, 2007
  16. ^ Western, Burlington Northern and Union Pacific railroads Railway Age – October 1994
  17. ^ UP will expand PRB coal lines Railway Age – Nov, 1996
  18. ^ UP, BNSF Announce Southern Powder River Basin Joint Line $100 Million Capacity Expansion Plan
  19. ^ UP sets annual coal tonnage record in Southern Powder River Basin Progressive Railroading – January 16, 2007

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