DEQ Hears Comments, Objections On Revised Brook Mine Permit

May 14, 2020

From Brook Mine Revised Permit Application: Extent of declared alluvial valley floors (AVFs) at and adjacent to the proposed Brook Mine in the upper Tongue River Basin, Wyoming.
Credit Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) held an informal conference Wednesday to hear comments and objections to a revised permit application from Brook Mining Co., LLC, a subsidiary of Ramaco Carbon. The company hopes to mine thermal coal and then research, develop and manufacture products using it as the feedstock.

In March of this year, the DEQ deemed the application technically complete for the second time. DEQ Director Todd Parfitt said he will consider the informal conference comments in making his final decision on the permit, along with the 101 comments made online.

Sheridan County landowners voiced concerns about the frequency of blasting, impacts to recreation and water quality and levels. Some asked for blasting to be limited to the weekdays.

Mary Brezik-Fisher, who lives within a half-mile to the mine, explained why this was such an important issue.

"There are over 100 landowners within half a mile of the mine. There are over 350 domestic and stock water wells which could be impacted," she said.

Jeff Barron, a consulting engineer for Brook Mine, said blasting would not occur all day everyday, but that it would be important to retain flexibility. He added locals will still be able to access Tongue River and that the company hopes to enhance the area.

Big Horn Coal and the Powder River Basin Resource Council focused on possible impacts regarding hydrology and subsidence. Two scientific experts contracted by the PRBRC weighed in on the permit's analysis on the topics, arguing there wasn't enough data.

Michael Wireman, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency geologist, said there were flaws in how monitoring of the water was done.

"I'm very frustrated with not being able to add to the data. There's huge uncertainty here with respect to these critical water resources," he said.

Brook Mine's hydrology consultant Errol Lawrence with Petrotek said his groundwater model shows reasonable impacts from the Brook Mine and that you usually don't have all the answers at the front end.

"I always want more data, but from a practical standpoint, collection of additional data I don't think would change the model outcome substantially. I don't think additional data is necessary," he said.

PRBRC staff attorney Shannon Anderson said a possible solution for their concerns and hydrology and subsidence concerns could be limiting mining to that first five year term of the permit.

Tom Sansonetti, Holland & Hart LLP attorney representing Ramaco and Brook Mine, said all of the Environmental Quality Council's 2017 concerns have been addressed. 

"It has been reviewed and re-reviewed and complete and in compliance twice by the state of Wyoming's own mining experts at the DEQ," he said, explaining the project has been in the works since 2011. "No amount of permit review will ever be sufficient."

Sansonetti said the majority of responses to the DEQ online showed support for the mine. About 45 of 101 responses came in support of the mine from local homeowners, not including businesses, Ramaco employees, or those living outside the area. They touted economic benefits and hopes of economic diversification while others raised continued environmental concerns for the local area.

DEQ's Todd Parfitt said he plans to decide on the revised permit within 60 days.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Cooper McKim, at cmckim5@uwyo.edu.