PSC conference looks at merits of new South Heart coal mine

2011-06-29T00:45:00Z PSC conference looks at merits of new South Heart coal mineBy LAUREN DONOVAN Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune
June 29, 2011 12:45 am  • 

 DICKINSON —The likelihood that a new coal mine will ever be developed near South Heart depends more on politics than the emotions of the people who live there.

Not one ton of coal will leave the ground unless a new federal energy policy creates credits for carbon capture, and the will to get that done shifts with political and economic winds.

Still, the process to get an approved mining permit grinds on, with both developers and opponents willing to stay the course for however long it takes.

Both were present Tuesday at an informal conference in Dickinson on Great Northern Project Development’s application to open a coal mine southwest of South Heart. The “conference” is a legal phase that will end with a recommendation to the state Public Service Commission from the administrative law judge who conducted the hearing.

It started Tuesday morning, picked up again Tuesday evening and was scheduled to start up again this morning if necessary.

Great Northern owns vast coal reserves that date back to territorial times when the railroads were granted land and minerals to open and cross the continent.

The company plans to develop some of its North Dakota reserves by opening a 5,000-acre coal mine and build a plant to gasify the coal and use extracted hydrogen to create electricity.

“We designed the plant in view of carbon capture. Without it, this plant will not be built,” said Great Northern’s environmental vice president, Rich Southwick. Without the plant, the company won’t mine coal, either.

That could be good news for some, at least the members of Neighbors United who have been working hard to defeat the coal mine and the associated power plant.

They were saving their testimony for Tuesday evening, and Mary Hodell of South Heart, a founding member of the group, said they have been practicing for a long time for that opportunity by speaking out at local zoning and county meetings.

“This is the Public Service Commission. It’s what we’ve been practicing for four years,” she said. “We’ll stand and fight every step of the way until we hear they (the company) go back to Texas.”

Hodell said the United Neighbors members believe the coal development will interfere with the aesthetics of nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park and impact the South Heart farm neighborhood for decades, if not forever.

At least 10 farmers will be in the way of the coal mine and others around it would have to deal with access roads and other impacts, she said.

Steve Merrill, a retired soil scientist, said the mine will destroy an alluvial plain of the Heart River south branch and ruin a subsurface water supply.

“It’s a terrible sacrifice,” he said

Mark Trechock, director of the Dakota Resource Council, told the law judge that reclamation law should be rewritten before any new mines are permitted.

He said changes in performance bond requirements don’t provide enough incentive for coal mines to sell or return the land once it’s reclaimed.

Less than 2,000 mined acres has been returned to private ownership and Falkirk Mining Co., the second-largest mine operator in the state, has yet to release one acre, Trechock said.

“It’s an injustice to South Heart to permit a new mine under these circumstances,” he said.

Southwick said Great Northern would reclaim land behind mining and comply with rules. “To the extent that we could hasten that (release), we would,” he said.

So far, after 10 years of planning, various permits and applications submitted and rewritten, the project still has no customers for the electricity and only some for the carbon dioxide byproduct that could be used to force more oil out of surrounding oil fields as they start to age.

Its initial mine permit application contained nearly 400 deficiencies, which will have to be resolved separately from the informal conference.

Despite the decade of time and millions of dollars spent to staff and develop a project that exists only on paper and in documents so far, Southwick said the company will keep going.

“We are in this for the long haul. We believe coal has a place in the nation’s energy portfolio,” he said. The plant would have world-class pollution controls, he said.

The power plant is estimated to cost at least $3 billion, and 300 workers would be hired between the mine and the plant, Southwick said.

“We like to think it will change (the South Heart neighborhood) in a good way, improving the infrastructure and the community,” Southwick said. “We acknowledge that the neighbors who don’t want to see coal development will be unhappy.”

Great Northern still has months before any final action is taken on its permit.

(Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 220-5511, or

Copyright 2015 Bismarck Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(7) Comments

  1. RockNDBakken
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    RockNDBakken - June 29, 2011 10:44 am
    Duke...electricity produced by coal is still the cheapest method available. Whether anyone likes it or not, it will be here for DECADES. GNPD probably has enough money to drag this out in hearings, meetings, court cases and will wear down the opponents until they win approval for their project.
  2. Report Abuse
    - June 29, 2011 9:00 am
    Good luck attracting investors.

    Most already know that the era of coal is about over.

  3. JonnyB
    Report Abuse
    JonnyB - June 29, 2011 8:30 am
    Daviol said: "Why do we make it so difficult for property owners to use their property? If the opponents owned the coal, they would be all for a new mine."

    "Great Northern (GNPD) owns vast coal reserves that date back to territorial times when the railroads were granted land and minerals to open and cross the continent."

    This also includes subsurface mineral rights that are under the land of private property owners. The people who live in South Heart do NOT want this coal mine and processing plants in their community and they have the right to try to keep it out of their community. They are concerned about their health and the health of their children and livestock.

    The three Public Service Commissioners did not even have the decency to be at the hearing.

    Most of the water sources for ranchers and farmers near South Heart are shallow pasture aquifers (under 100 feet deep) . The process of mining will inevitable contaminate these aquifers and my also deplete them entirely. The good people of South Heart do not want this in their backyard. Not one person testified in favor of the GNPD coal project.

  4. Daviol
    Report Abuse
    Daviol - June 29, 2011 7:18 am
    Why do we make it so difficult for property owners to use their property? If the opponents owned the coal, they would be all for a new mine.
  5. iluvnd
    Report Abuse
    iluvnd - June 29, 2011 7:00 am
    Wouldn't it be nice if we had three Public Service Commissioners who wanted to work on issues like this instead of running for higher office?
  6. JonnyB
    Report Abuse
    JonnyB - June 29, 2011 4:22 am
    The people of South Heart do not want health problems from the proposed coal project such as asthma , cancer and childhood ailments brought on by toxic water and polluted air. I know, I was at the evening meeting in Dickinson last night. There were at least 100 people at the meeting and NOT one person testified in favor of the project. Their health is much more important to them than a job working in a gasification plant that would make one vomit from the smell alone.

    GNPD has applied for a mining permit three times and it was rejected since it was incomplete and the PSC found 376 deficiencies. No one trusts GNPD.

    The title of this article is very misleading. "PSC conference looks at merits of new South Heart coal mine" There are NO merits, just potential problems, and a lot of them.
  7. RockNDBakken
    Report Abuse
    RockNDBakken - June 28, 2011 8:33 pm
    Those people around South Heart must be quite wealthy, they don't need economic development, jobs, royalties, taxes or businesses. The DRC certainly won't provide any of this. Most small towns would be thrilled to have this opportunity to grow and continue to exist.
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