BLM Says "Only Time Will Tell" Whether Coal Industry Rebounds From Lifting Moratorium

Mar 31, 2017

Credit Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

This week, President Trump lifted a moratorium on new coal leases signed into law 14 months ago by President Obama. But Wyoming's Bureau of Land Management office says, even while that moratorium was in effect, the agency continued to take in lease applications for potential mining projects.

Right now, the Wyoming BLM is evaluating eleven applications, mostly in the Powder River Basin and the Green River Valley. All but one of those applications were submitted over ten years ago. That's because the coal market has been struggling to compete with much cheaper natural gas prices. The one closest to approval would expand the Antelope Mine near Gillette by nearly 900 acres. Another, the Buckskin Mine, would expand by over 1200 acres.

But BLM spokesman Brad Purdy said with the moratorium lifted, more companies may start applying.

“As far as the markets go, that's driven by these companies,” said Purdy. “When they feel like they're ready to start moving on a new track of coal, they will submit their application to BLM and we will process it. If the coal industry has an uptick, then we'll see more applications. If it doesn't, then things will go along as they have been for the last few years.”

Purdy said it remains to be seen whether the president's order will create a rebound in the coal market.

“As new applications are submitted, that will let us know that there's new interest out there. So only time will tell on that.”

The coal market has seen a slight increase to $80 a ton thanks to a cold winter but has been struggling for a few years to get above $50 a ton.