The National Mining Association has estimated that there is 68 Gt (74.9 billion st) of recoverable coal reserves in the Otter Creek coal tracks in Montana, almost as much as other Western states combined, yet Montana produces just 4.1 percent of the coal mined in the United States.
Arch Coal, the second largest coal producer in the United States owns the rights to mine approximately 1.3 Gt (1.5 billion st) of coal in the Otter Creek region and on July 26, the company submitted an application to begin strip mining there. However, like many proposed mining projects, there is opposition from groups who worry about pollution and increased train traffic, the USA Today reported.
“We’ve been targeting this time frame for a while, and it came to fruition,” said Mike Rowlands, director of operations for Billings-based Otter Creek Coal. “This is just the first step in the process. We’re still a long way away from mining there.”
The company has set an initial target of 2015 to begin mining operations at Otter Creek.
Demonstrators from across the state occupied the state capitol to protest the proposals to mine state-owned Otter Creek and ship the coal to West Coast ports for export overseas. Two opposition groups — Montana Coal Export Action and the Blue Skies Campaign — are calling on state officials to deny Arch Coal's permit application and halt any proposals to ship Montana coal by rail across the state.
If the Arch Coal permit is approved, infrastructure such as the proposed Tongue River Railroad would need to be built to ship the coal.
Opponents fear that would lead to massive coal strip mining, condemnation of property through eminent domain and coal exports to Asia.
Arch Coal’s application calls for transporting the coal by rail, but the proposed Tongue River Railroad, which would transfer much of the coal from the Powder River Basin, has yet to gain federal approval.
In June, the Surface Transportation Board ordered the proposed railroad’s backers to submit a new application. The board also said it will conduct another environmental study of the line.
Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a previous environmental study.
The court said federal officials failed to consider the impact of the proposed Otter Creek mine.