SHERIDAN — While Ramaco aims to showcase Sheridan as the “Carbon Valley” for a new higher tech future, opponents of the project continue to voice concerns.
Last month, after a lengthy period of review over several years, local company Ramaco Carbon received approval on its application to mine its private coal assets at the Brook Mine, located in a historic mining area just north of Sheridan.
A permit coordinator for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s Land Quality Division District 3 informed Ramaco more than a month ago that Brook Mine’s permit application has been deemed technically complete under the Wyoming statutes governing the mine approval process.
That approval opened a period of public comment before a final decision on the mine permit’s approval, which is anticipated this summer.
The proposed Brook Mine will be the resource element of the nation’s first vertically integrated carbon tech platform near Sheridan, which includes the Carbon Advanced Material research park campus and the future iPark mine-mouth manufacturing facilities. The overall platform is focused on using coal to create advanced products and materials, such as carbon fiber and graphene.
“Our Brook mine may be small by Wyoming’s past standards. But it is unique,” said Randall Atkins, Ramaco Carbon’s chairman and CEO. “It is the first step in the only vertically integrated coal tech project designed to produce the feedstock for coal-to-product research, development and manufacturing of advanced carbon products and materials.
Atkins added that iCAM, carbon advanced materials research center, now under construction, will also be the nation’s first private research facility dedicated to trying to repurpose the coal industry to a higher tech, higher value proposition.
But members of the Powder River Basin Resource Council still have concerns with the project. According to a press release from PRBRC, the organization along with landowners and other concerned citizens filed objections to the Brook Mine this month.
Most of the objecting landowners live in close proximity to the mine and are concerned about impacts to their property, health and safety and quality of life.
“While the permit has improved over its many rounds of technical review, the Resource Council and the citizens argued that the permit application is still too vague to analyze and understand the impacts to air, land and water resources and public health and safety,” the press release from PRBRC stated. “Additionally, the permit application fails to consider any cumulative impacts of Ramaco’s proposed iPark and iCam carbon manufacturing facilities, which are linked to the proposed Brook Mine. Ramaco has proposed a 39-year mine plan, but it remains unclear how much coal they will actually need and for how long.”
Atkins pointed out that the Brook Mine permit has been more than eight years in the making. It initially underwent review a few years ago, went through a contested hearing with the Environmental Quality Council in 2017 and was resubmitted to the Department of Environmental Quality.
“These experts are people who live and work here,” Atkins said. “They have reviewed coal mining permits for a living for decades. Their careers are in mine engineering, vegetation, wildlife, history, geology, hydrology and mine reclamation. They are tasked to help the state judge that someone who taps the state’s resources does so in compliance with the law.
“After eight years,” Atkins continued, “they have said this permit is more than ready.”
PRBRC and some Sheridan residents raised concerns about impacts to water resources, and other impacts from blasting, subsidence, increased traffic and industrial activity. They also submitted reports from two individuals they refer to as technical experts in the field.
“There is too much at stake to allow an incomplete mine plan to proceed without having sufficient data, studies and monitoring in this historic alluvial valley,” local landowner and PRBRC board member Joan Tellez stated in the press release. “We call on the DEQ to ensure the Tongue River Valley’s preservation and protection of its inhabitants, and we will continue working to make sure that our land and water remain preserved.”
Landowners and citizens also raised concerns about impacts to the historic area and to recreational activities, but Atkins said the organization and its supporters simply don’t like the industry.
“They want the state to fail to have an energy or extractive resource economy,” Atkins said. “They also do not seem to care that without that resource-based economy there is no easy way to pay for the public services upon which Wyoming families now depend. New investment, new manufacturing and new mining pays Wyoming’s bills.”
After the public comment period ends, it is anticipated that the WDEQ/LQD will then proceed to schedule an informal conference in May to hear from both proponents and objectors to the permit. Ultimately, it is expected the director of the Department of Environmental Quality will issue a written decision approving or denying the application by mid-July.