Looking for coal in Oliver County

Looking for coal in Oliver County

Drill rigs in Oliver County are probing for coal in a 140,000-acre area that could become a new coal mine.

North American Coal Co. owns the reserves and had gone so far as to make an application to mine coal from what it called the Otter Creek mine area nearly 20 years ago.

It withdrew that application.

Now it’s back in the same area northwest of Center, exploring a much larger tract because of renewed interest in the coal reserves, said company spokesman Dean Peterson. The area extends from northwest of Center to just about the back door of the Dakota Westmoreland coal mine southeast of Beulah.

State geologist Ed Murphy said the Geological Survey issued an exploration permit to North American for a six-township area.

The permit was issued in April and Murphy said the company’s findings remain confidential.

The six townships contain nearly 600 million tons of mineable coal, according to an updated county-by-county coal reserve survey, Murphy said. That alone is enough to sustain the current level of all coal mining in the state for another 20 years, he said.

Overall, Oliver County has a coal reserve of 1.1 billion tons and ranks 11th among North Dakota counties with coal reserves. Mercer County ranks 10th. The top coal reserve county is Slope County with 4 billion tons, he said.

The drilling in Oliver County will tell North American more precisely how deep and interconnected the reserves are so it can begin calculating what it would cost to mine the coal.

Peterson said there is interest in the coal given the number of projects under consideration in Coal Country.

Minnkota Power Cooperative is studying the possibility of adding a third base load unit to its Milton R. Young stations at Center.

Great River Energy and Basin Electric Power Cooperative are both planning pollution upgrades at their plants near Stanton, which could change their coal demand. Great River is powering its Stanton plants with out-of-state coal, but could possibly switch back to North Dakota lignite once it starts scrubbing out sulfur dioxide pollution.

Peterson said the company is responding to interest, though not in detailed conversations with any particular customer.

Peterson said there is intense interest in coal, oil and gas – all energy – reserves in North Dakota and beyond.

“I think it (Otter Creek coal) will be mined. There’s a real climate for development,” he said. “I’ve never seen this level of activity in the region.”

Now, BNI Coal is the only mine operator based in Oliver County, providing lignite for the Milton R. Young units.

Dakota Westmoreland is headquartered in Beulah, but some of its mine permit area is in Oliver County.

Murphy said there are six coal exploration permits in various stages of exploration now and most are related to ongoing mine operations. The exceptions are for coal in the six Oliver County townships and for an area west of South Heart, where Great Northern Development may build a new coal-fired power plant.

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