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DRC to review local mining application

The Dakota Resource Council urged the review of a possible coal mining application near South Heart by federal officials in a letter written to the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in Wyoming, according to a recent press release.

South Heart Coal LLC, which is owned by South Heart Development LLC and Allied Syngas Corp., plans to operate a coal mine and construct a gasification plant near South Heart.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission found 37 deficiencies -- which included water impact -- in the company's mining application earlier this year, according to a previous press article.

South Heart Coal first applied for a permit nearly two years ago, which was also found to be deficient, but the company withdrew that application.

South Heart Coal plans to respond to the PSC's deficiency letter within about a month, said Richard Southwick, the company's environmental vice president.

"The office of surface mining maintains a supervisory role and it's their job to make sure that the state's program is at least as effective as what's required by federal law," Trechok said. "What we're asking the OSM Casper Field Office is that we really want them to look at that permit, particularly in regard to probable hydrological consequences. We want to make sure they meet the demands of the law."

However, Jeffrey W. Fleischman, Casper Field Office director said OSMRE normally only looks over permits after a mine is operational.

The state of North Dakota is the regulatory authority over mining applications, so OSMRE will likely not review the application unless it determined the state was not reviewing it e­­ffectively, he said.

"At that point and only then can federal jurisdiction be asserted," Fleischman added.

The DRC and some area residents are wondering how the mine will affect groundwater.

"Without access to water, cow-calf operators like us would be out of business," Frank Hurt, who lives near the proposed mine, said in a press release. "History shows us once farmland is taken out of production for coal mining, we won't be getting it back."

Fleischman said water should not be a concern, since state law requires mining companies to replace all water lost or contaminated because of their operations.

"I think North Dakota has been very vigorous at enforcing that," Fleischman said.

South Heart Coal has also promised to comply with state laws.

"It shouldn't affect the groundwater quality at all, but it will affect the availability of groundwater near the open pits," Southwick said, adding it may affect nearby wells. "If that happens and the owner of that well loses their water, we will replace it."

However, Trechock said it will be hard to prove whether depletion or contamination of water was caused by the mining operation.

"If I was sitting out there around the perimeter of that mining operation, the promises of the company wouldn't mean much to me," Trechock said.

The DRC's letter also asked OSMRE to address a pattern of delays in meeting state and federal reclamation standards for state coal mines.

Fleischman said OSM will likely take the DRC's suggestions into consideration.