Washington’s ties to cleaner coal solution

BNSF Railway train
Millennium Bulk Terminals and Cloud Peak Energy say that coal originating from the Powder River Basin (PRB) would be an eco-friendly alternative to coal being used in Asia. Photo: Doug Wertman.

As Millennium Bulk Terminals (MBT) continues to weather six years of permit applications to create an export terminal in Longview, Washington, President and CEO Bill Chapman argues the project would offer Asian consumers a more environmentally friendly coal alternative than what is currently being burned.

Japan is showing interest in U.S. coal, and one Wyoming-based coal mining company has already entered into a long-term agreement to export coal as part of meeting Japan’s clean energy goals.

In a recent post, Chapman asserts that the terminal would benefit the environment by reducing greenhouse gases should more U.S. coal become available to Asia.

“The demand for Powder River Basin coal from Montana and Wyoming in Japan and South Korea is strong, and the Millennium port will help meet the demand and create jobs where needed in rural America.”

Chapman wrote that the project has struggled to navigate the permitting process for the last six years, dealing with two permit denials based on “alternative facts that fail to look at the total picture.”

He argues the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) backs up the company’s efforts to promote ecological safety by analyzing the total greenhouse gas emissions from the mining, transport and burning of coal in Asia for the project. The FEIS found that the terminal’s operation would reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 63.54 million metric tons compared to coal options originating from other countries.

Following the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Power Facility meltdown, Japan has placed emphasis on other energy sources, including coal-fired power plants. In surveying its options, the country has identified MBT as a mutually beneficial opportunity for clean coal alternatives.

“Today, the world faces a dilemma with its energy future,” said Chapman. “Climate change is a challenge that must be addressed. Yet national economies and standards of living are built on energy, and at this point fossil fuels provide the basis for energy infrastructure in the developed world.”

Chapman added that until energy sources such as wind or solar become more dependable, energy stakeholders should consider options that work to reduce greenhouse gases while still powering local economies.

“It is time to support projects in Washington state, like Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview, that responsibly help to reduce carbon dioxide emissions until more sustainable energy solutions prove to be reliable and cost-effective worldwide.”

Wyoming-based Cloud Peak Energy (CPE) is one company identified by Japanese utility companies as a source of more clean coal to help fulfill its future energy goals. In January, the business entered into a long-term coal export agreement with Singapore-based trading company JERA Trading.

“South Korean and Japanese utilities see a significant benefit in a diverse, safe supply, which is one of the things that the U.S. offers,” Rick Curtsinger, Director of Public Affairs for CPE told Lens.

Last year, CPE was the largest U.S. exporter of coal to Asian utilities, with Japan and South Korea as the company’s major customers. The company shipped just under 5 million tons of coal to Asian customers in 2017, and it projects exporting approximately 5 million tons this year.

CPE has also entered into an agreement with MBT to ship up to 7.7 million tons per year at the project’s full build-out.

The coal produced by CPE comes from three mines located in the Powder River Basin (PRB), located in southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming. According to the United States Geological Survey, coal originating from PRB is “lower in mercury and ash than Indonesian coal” and is considered a safer, cleaner alternative to coal being burned in Asia.

The majority of CPE’s exported coal originates from the Spring Creek Mine and is transported through terminals in British Columbia. The mine is located on the northern end of the PRB and is a little closer to the terminals, giving the location a transportation and cost advantage.

Another advantage is that it has a slightly higher heat content per ton, measured in British thermal units (Btu), than the coal in the southern end of the basin.

“Having a higher heat content allows a utility to use less coal to generate the same amount of electricity,” said Curtsinger. “In its assessment of the project, the state of Washington found that the PRB coal would not add to coal use in Asia, it would displace coal that would otherwise be supplied from Indonesia, Russia and others.”

He added the U.S. has extremely strong mining laws that require reclamation of the land once mining is complete and makes sure that the land is returned in as good if not better condition.

For six out of the last 12 years, CPE has won the federal government’s top award for successful, innovative reclamation.

“We are using very innovative approaches that have been successful and recognized by the federal government as our environmental approach,” said Curtsinger. This includes making sure reclamation supports wildlife, grazing and various species of flora and fauna.

Other best practices include reducing truck haul cycle times to operate more efficiently and relocating maintenance and water filling stations to reduce travel distances.

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