The Centennial Mine, tucked in a scenic cleft under Utah’s Book Cliffs known as Deadman Canyon, once extracted bituminous coal from deep under the West Tavaputs Plateau, but the dangers of operating in methane-infused deposits 3,000 feet below the surface forced its owner to suspend operations.
That was more than 10 years ago, but the mine has yet to be closed. Equipment remains in place at its unsealed portals and the mine continues to vent methane through several bore holes.
Since discovering leaks from three of these wells earlier this year, state regulators have ordered the mine’s owner UtahAmerican Energy Inc. to plug and reclaim 10 holes, known as “gob vents,” because they tap leases the company has either relinquished or mined out.
While UtahAmerican promptly fixed the leaky wells, which regulators deemed an “imminent public danger,” it has resisted plugging wells, arguing they are needed to support future mining should the company decide to resume operations there, 10 miles northeast of Price. It also argued the leaky wells posed a low risk of ignition and are in a remote place where people rarely venture.
The firm’s resistance has resulted in a standoff with the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, or DOGM, which contends these wells serve no valid purpose associated with UtahAmerican’s coal-mining permit. In response, UtahAmerican, formerly known as Andalex Resources, is asking the Oil, Gas and Mining board to toss the division’s plugging order.
According to Dana Dean, DOGM’s associate director overseeing the coal program, regulators are negotiating a resolution that could enable the company to keep the wells open until Aug. 1, allowing a third party to set up equipment for capturing the valuable gas to make it commercially available.