Eastern Wyoming Coal Mines
by Jon Bryan Burley, ASLA

In the summer of 2007, the American Society for Mining and Reclamation met in Gillette, Wyoming. At the meeting, 88 technical papers and 11 landscape reclamation posters were presented. During the last day of the meeting, attendees had the opportunity to witness several tornadoes winding their way to Gillette from the south. Luckily, Gillette and the conferees were spared, and participants were able to visit the Belle Ayr and the North Antelope-Rochelle surface coal mines in the high plains outside of Gillette.

Belle Ayr Mine 

The Belle Ayr Mine is an open pit truck and shovel operation. Coal is mined west of the burn line, which demarcates the area where the coal is at the surface and has been burned by prairie fires. The usable coal is typically found beginning about 20 feet below the surface, and currently the coal is mined to a level of 250 feet below the surface


Figure 1




















Mining operation at the Belle Ayr Mine. (Copyright 2007 © Jon Bryan Burley, all rights
reserved, used by permission.)



The coal is low in sulphur (0.31%) and ash (4.6%). The coal is silo loaded onto trains and sent to electricity-producing plants to the east and south.

Figure 2




















Coal loading silo at the Belle Ayr Mine. (Copyright 2007 © Jon Bryan Burley, all
rights reserved, used by permission.)


Water is employed to reduce dust during the operations. About 23 million tons of coal is produced from this mine annually with reserves of about 500 million tons.

The post-mining land use for the high plains site is grazing and wildlife habitat.

Figure 3


















Reclaimed environment at the Belle Ayr Mine. (Copyright 2007 © Jon Bryan Burley,
all rights reserved, used by permission.)

Woody plants, forbs, and grasses are used to revegetate the reclaimed area.  The woody plants include Atriplex canescens (Fourwing saltbush) and Ceratoides lanata (Common winterfat) that is grown for both mule deer (Odocoileus herionus) and pronghorn (Antilocarpa americana). The Belle Ayr Mine contains several nesting structures for a great blue heron rookery.

North Antelope-Rochelle Mine 

Before entering the North Antelope-Rochelle Mine, each participant had to go through mine safety training. Participants learned of radio channels for emergencies, rules and regulations concerning blasting, and requirements around the pit areas.

This mine uses draglines, dozers, shovels, and trucks that operate on two 12-hour shifts, 365 days a year. Currently 209 million tons of overburden is removed to obtain 88 million tons of coal.
 
Figure 4


















Mining operations at the North Antelope-Rochelle Mine. (Copyright 2007 © Jon Bryan Burley, all rights reserved, used by permission.)


Each day, 5,800 tons of coal is sent on 16 trains to 79 different power plants. The coal supplied to different power plants is actually a blend of various types of coal to meet each plant's specifications. In the operations, 650,000 gallons of diesel fuel is consumed every 10 days. Over 1 billion tons of coal has been produced at this mine with reserves of about 1.2 billion tons.
 
This mine has won numerous awards including: Sentinels of Safety Award from the U.S. Department of Labor for operating the nation's safest U.S. surface mine, the Wyoming Governor's Safety Award for the safest mine in the state, "Safe Sam" Award from the State Mine Inspector and the Wyoming Mining Association for the years 2004, 2005, and 2006, Gold Good Neighbor Award, U. S. Office of Surface Mining, Good Neighbor Award from the Wyoming Mining Association, and Corporation of the Year for Exemplary Conservation Principals from the Wyoming Wildlife Federation.

Concluding Remarks 

The participants had the opportunity to observe some quite large open pit coal mining operations and reclamation activities on the high plains of Wyoming. They also saw a variety of wildlife on the reclaimed lands including several rattlesnakes (native inhabitants), and numerous pronghorn antelope. It was an interesting and informative trip.


Figure 5

















 


Pronghorn antelope on the reclaimed site of the North Antelope-Rochelle Mine.
(Copyright 2007 © Jon Bryan Burley, all rights reserved, used by permission.)


Jon Bryan Burley, ASLA, is Associate Professor at the School of Planning, Design, and Construction at Michigan State University, where he is Director of the Landscape Architecture Program. He can be reached at: burleyj@msu.edu 

 
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