Wolverine Fuels plans to reopen Trail Mountain coal mine in Utah

September 24, 2019

Executives with Wolverine Fuels said the company plans to reopen the Trail Mountain Mine in Emery County, UT to mine 53 Mt (58 million st) of recoverable coal on leases it holds on a tract near Orangeville it calls Fossil Rock. The coal can be accessed through Trail Mountain’s sealed portals.

“We have plans to breach those seals and begin mining as early as next year,” Vice President of Operations Garrett Atwood told an interim committee.

“It would be a boon to the Utah economy. ... We are talking in the neighborhood of 100 employees,” Atwood added. “These are all high-paying jobs in a rural economy.”

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Wolverine plans to convert the mine from a continuous to a long-wall operation, he said, which would employ between 300 and 400 people.

Unlike most of Utah’s coal production, the bulk of the Fossil Rock coal is leased from the state, rather than the federal government. This coal lies under the 8,200-acre Cottonwood tract controlled by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), which auctioned the rights to mine it in 2007.

Despite slowly demand for coal in the United States, there is still high demand for Utah coal from Asian economies, Atwood said.

Wolverine changed its name last year and relocated its headquarters from Kentucky to Sandy, UT. While coal companies around the nation are slowing production, closing mines and going bankrupt, Wolverine continues to invest, banking on connecting with Asian markets through West Coast export terminals.

Last year, Wolverine shipped 2.7 Mt (3 million st) — a third of its total production — to Japan through the San Francisco Bay, according to Atwood.

“There is this notion that coal is dying, [but] we can’t hire enough qualified people right now,” Atwood said. “We have been growing and hiring more people at each of our mines. There is an opportunity to keep growing. We see the export market picking up and continue to be strong. As long as we can maintain access to the ports, we will continue to sell our coal overseas — even though the U.S. market may be declining.”

Emery is one of four Utah coal counties that sought to invest $53 million in an export terminal under development in Oakland, CA, before the project became mired in controversy after East Bay activists and elected officials got wind of the plans to ship coal.

Many local officials opposed coal being handled in Oakland, which passed an ordinance banning coal. A federal judge has since invalidated that ban.

Atwood expects Fossil Rock to help supply those plants with high-quality coal that he said holds 11,500 British thermal units per pound and less than 0.6 percent sulfur. The mine is located a few miles up Cottonwood Creek from the road between Orangeville and Joe’s Valley Reservoir in the Wasatch Plateau.

Wolverine holds contracts to supply both those plants. The contract to supply Hunter is up for renewal next year. Meanwhile, the firm’s biggest customer, the Intermountain Power Plant near Delta, will stop burning coal in 2025, when it is scheduled to switch to natural gas.

 

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