Dispute over surface rights could hold up new coal mine in Wyoming

May 11, 2015

Plans for Romaco Wyoming Coal’s Brook Mine in northwest Wyoming could be derailed because of a dispute over rights to the surface of the proposed mine.

The Casper Star Tribune reported that the Ramaco Wyoming Coal plans to mine 8 million stpy) of coal from what would be the first new mine in Sheridan County in five decades, however, the company firm has failed to reach a surface use agreement with a second coal company, Lighthouse Resources Inc., over access to the proposed mine site, court filings show. Ramaco filed a lawsuit in Sheridan District Court in November claiming a 1954 deed to the property gives it the right to mine coal at the site. Big Horn Coal Co., a Lighthouse subsidiary, has sought to block Ramaco's right to access the property, saying it has not consented to the Kentucky firm's development and reclamation plan.

A study that found the mine would create 600 jobs and $30 million in annual wages.

The dispute has thrown the company's permit application to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality into limbo. DEQ initially issued Ramaco a letter in November saying its application was complete. But in an April 2 letter, the department said it had identified deficiencies in the application. The letter included comments from the Wyoming Attorney General's office, which noted the company failed to include surface access agreements and consent forms in its application to the DEQ's Land Quality Division. The Attorney General's office requested the company supply documents related to the ongoing court case as well as the necessary surface use agreements.

"The Land Quality Division has determined that this application is deficient and is not yet technically adequate and suitable for publication," the Attorney General's office wrote.

Keith Guille, a DEQ spokesman, said it is not uncommon for the agency to ask for more information during a permit review. Permits are highly technical documents and companies rarely submit all the needed information on first go-around, he said, noting Ramaco has yet to respond to the state's inquiry.

Sheridan County has a long mining history, but the area has not had any active coal mines since the Big Horn Coal mine closed in the 1980s.
Ramaco's plans for the Brook Mine call for using a technique called highwall mining, where a 12-foot auger is drilled into the side of a coal seam. The process is cheaper than traditional methods because it requires fewer miners and there is no need to remove the topsoil covering the coal.

Lighthouse Resources was formerly Ambre Energy North America. The company, which owns the Decker Mine in Montana and the Black Butte Mine in southwestern Wyoming, changed its name in April. It marks the firm's second rebranding within a year.

Ambre Energy, based in Brisbane, Australia, revealed in regulatory filings last year it had accumulated $32 million in debt since 2013 and was struggling to raise money to finance its operations. The firm's troubles prompted one of its long-time investors, Resource Capital Fund, of Denver, to purchase Ambre's North American assets in December. The new company was initially rechristened Ambre Energy North America before changing its name to Lighthouse Resources.



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