Defying trends, Wyoming approves a new coal mine

Why a small operation is forging forward despite broader industry contraction.


Wyoming is poised to see the first opening of a coal mine in decades. The Brook Mine, near Sheridan, still has a few permitting issues to resolve before it can open, but it cleared a major hurdle in September.

The Wyoming Environmental Quality Council, an independent government-mandated review board, Sept. 28. But it still needs to be vetted by the federal government, and the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, which is currently reviewing its application. Ramaco, the Kentucky-based coal company proposing the mine, hopes to begin operations in early 2017.

A dragline uncovers a stretch of coal seam at the North Antelope Rochelle coal mine, where 235 employees were laid off earlier this year.

While the mine could give a bump to Wyoming’s bruised coal mining sector, the proposed mine would be a relatively small outfit with fewer jobs than large operations in the state’s coal-rich Powder River Basin.  

Given the cutbacks and bankruptcies that have afflicted other coal mines across the country recently, a new operation is unexpected. Arch Coal and Peabody Energy announced 465 layoffs at two major Wyoming coal mines; both filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. In September, however, Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal submitted plans to exit bankruptcy.

While it’s likely the major players will hang on, the coal mining sector has been in steep decline nationwide, with historically low natural gas prices out-competing coal, and stricter environmental regulations making coal’s long-term future hazy. 

To explore our map, hover over individual coal mines for more details on recent layoffs. View specific operators and their respective facilities by highlighting a company name in the legend. Search geographic locations using the magnifying glass in the upper left corner. To return to original view, click the home button on the map view. 

One new coal mine doesn’t mean coal is back. But the Brook Mine’s approach may provide a road map for how coal could survive amid industry contraction:

It will be cheaper than other coal mines.

Unlike most mines in the Powder River Basin, which are open-pit surface mines, the Brook Mine would be a “high-wall mine,” which are less expensive to operate than open-pit or underground mines that require drilling into deep contours with more expensive and complicated machinery. And it would be require fewer employees, since it’d be “a mostly automated process,” Ramaco CEO Randall Atkins says. That also means the new mine wouldn’t make up for the gaps in employment that coal mine declines have created in Wyoming.

It’s starting off small.

The proposed mine would produce up to 8 million tons of coal a year. Compared to Wyoming’s two largest coal producers, Arch Coal Black Thunder and Peabody North Antelope mines, that’s not much: Together the complexes produced more than 100 million tons annually during Wyoming’s coal heyday. “We can find a market for this amount of coal,” Atkins says. “If you’re trying to start a 50-million-ton-a-year mine, that will be harder to place.” 

Location, location, location.

The mine will also be on private land, unlike most of the region’s coal mines. That means Ramaco will not have royalty payments to the feds, a significant advantage, Atkins says.

However, its location has also been a source of conflict: While Ramaco owns the mineral rights to the coal underground, another company, Big Horn Coal, owns the land. Because of Wyoming law, though, Ramaco has the upper hand: Mineral rights in the state typically take precedence over surface rights. Ramaco filed a lawsuit against in 2015 over original permitting that shows Big Horn Coal had no plans to develop there, Atkins says. The case is pending. 

Despite the promises of the proposed operation, there’s an outstanding question: As the demand for coal power declines, who will purchase the coal? Atkins declined to provide specifics about contracts the company has in place, but in 2014 he told the Casper Star-Tribune that Ramaco sought to , a gamble other companies have made as well, with little success.  

Paige Blankenbuehler is the assistant editor at NewTowncarShare News. She tweets .

Note: This article previously included an image incorrectly identified as the Powder River Basin.

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • Home Resource is a non-profit community sustainability center. We work with, in, and for the community to reduce waste and build a more vibrant and...
  • Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • Borderlands Restoration Network 501c3 is hiring a full-time Development Director. Description and job details can be found at
  • Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • The City of Fort Collins is seeking an Environmental Planning Manager in the Natural Areas Department. The Department has an annual budget of approximately $13...
  • We are seeking an experienced designer to be the team lead for web development and digital media. Part creator and part planner, this person should...
  • Vermont Law School seeks a Faculty Director for its Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic (ENRLC) to commence in the Summer or Fall of 2019....
  • at RCAC. See the full description at Apply at [email protected]
  • The Utah Rivers Council is looking for an energetic individual with strong communication and organizing skills. The Grassroots Organizer works to ensure our campaigns are...
  • Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • Hiring a part-time ranch manager to live on The Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch property in Hayden, CO. Responsibilities include: facility maintenance of historic ranch house,...
  • unique custom home in Sangre de Cristo Mountains of CO near La Veta Pass, 3 bed, 2 1/2 bath, private gated park, two hours from...
  • Kaniksu Land Trust, a community-supported non-profit land trust serving north Idaho and northwest Montana, is in search of a new executive director. The ideal candidate...
  • The Flathead Lakers are seeking a dynamic, self-motivated and proven leader to be our next Executive Director (ED).
  • The Blackfoot Challenge, a renowned collaborative conservation org in MT, seeks our next ED.
  • 10-day tour from Los Mochis airport, 2/nyts El Fuerte, train, 2/nyts canyon rim hotel, 5/nyts camping. 520-324-0209,
  • Earthjustice is hiring for a Staff Attorney
  • to lead an organization that funds projects in National Parks. Major gift fundraising and public lands experience critical. PD and app details @
  • Visit our website for full description and to apply.No phone calls please. NPCA is an EOE.