CASPER, Wyoming — Coal companies have abandoned applications to mine nearly 2 billion tons of coal reserves in Wyoming this year.
Peabody Energy, the nation's largest coal company, withdrew its four-year pursuit of the Antelope Ridge lease in October. The roughly 8,200-acre parcel near the North Antelope Rochelle Mine has reserves of 1 billion tons, or roughly a 10-year supply at current production levels.
The move followed a decision by Arch Coal in January to end its quest for a 957 million-ton lease near the Black Thunder Mine.
The actions come as coal companies seek to deal with a downturn in the industry that has prompted three major coal companies to file for bankruptcy this year.
The decisions to drop future coal lease bids could reshape Wyoming's mining industry long-term, leaving a smaller sector with output gradually declining in the coal-rich Powder River Basin.
"It is going to be a different looking industry than I started in 40-some years ago," Robert Burnham, an industry consultant, told the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/1Yf7QDc).
Environmentalists, who have been pushing for a moratorium on new coal leases, say withdrawing the lease applications is good for the climate.
The applications abandoned in 2015 alone would result in 3.2 billion metric tons of carbon emissions over the lifespan of the projects, or equal to the emissions of nearly 674 million cars, said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director at WildEarth Guardians, an environmental group.
"That is huge. One coal-fired power plant won't even come close to emitting that much in its life," he said. "We're achieving something here. We're really getting serious about transitioning to clean energy."
Roughly 40 percent of U.S. coal is mined on land overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Coal companies lease land from the government, often paying millions for the right to mine on federal land.
In 2011 and 2012, BLM approved six leases with nearly 2.2 billion tons in combined reserves. The sales netted the government about $2.2 billion.
But BLM has not approved any leases in the three years since, largely at the behest of companies that have held back as market conditions deteriorated.
Not all leasing activity has come to a halt.
Gillette-based Cloud Peak Energy submitted an application for a 441 million ton lease in August.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com