Counties discuss water at Skyline
A meeting last Friday between representatives of Carbon, Emery and Sanpete counties at the Skyline mine site offices may result in unprecedented action by the three governments on the subject of water.
"After a lengthy discussion this morning, we made some tentative decisions about how to begin to explore the possibilities that this new resource can offer us all," commented Carbon Commissioner Bill Krompel on Friday afternoon.
"As a group, the counties are going to ask for some money from the community impact board to do a feasibility study on the possibilities for drilling up to six wells in the area of Flat Canyon to dewater the coal field in the area," continued Krompel.
The situation with the water being a problem in Skyline mine began last year when miners ran into a water pocket while removing the black resource about 800 feet below Electric Lake.
Within a couple of days, that section of the mine was flooded and the company began searching for ways to handle the problem.
The mine was closed to regular operations for a few weeks because of the water, but eventually the company was able to place some large pumps in the mine itself as well as drill a well from the surface in James Canyon.
When pumping operations began, it was estimated by the company that the pumps were throwing out between 812.000 gallons of water per minute. The level finally dropped enough for coal removal operations to begin again, but the problem persists in the area and another area where the company intends to move operations at some time in the future.
One interesting thing about the water that is being pumped out of the mine is its age. According to some preliminary carbon dating tests that have been done the water could be between 6,000 to 12,000 years old.
Concerns about the water possibly draining down from Electric Lake have also been somewhat allayed because tests for the tritium, a trace isotope of hydrogen which is produced by hydrogen bomb tests, and which shows up in all surface water on the planet, have showed very little in the water being pumped out.
The effort by the three counties, while seemingly a possible solution to a water battle that has ensued between Carbon and Sanpete for more than one-half a century, is much more than that alone.
"The mine is presently breaking just a little over even on the costs they are incurring because of this water," said Krompel. "They will be moving out of that section of the mine soon, but the long term future of Skyline may very well lay in what can be done to alleviate the water problem."
In the next few months, the company will be closing down the section where the water is a problem and will be moving into the old Winter Quarters mine area, where it is reported that the conditions are much drier.
The coal in that area will keep operations going for five to six years, at the rate of about four million tons per year.
However, the next section the company will be moving into after that is under Flat Canyon, and it appears to be wetter than the present area in which they are mining.
"The company pays over $1 million dollars a year in property taxes to the three counties in which it operates right now," pointed out Krompel. "The mine employs over 300 people in the tri-county area and, in addition, pays millions of dollars a year in mineral lease royalties, part of which comes back to all the counties involved. The possibility of finding more water for use in the area would be an extra to keeping those jobs, the mineral lease moneys and property taxes for the counties involved."
But to begin with the water is the problem and an opportunity at the same time. The water is locked up in a formation called the Star Point sandstone formation and the area it occurs in averages about 700 feet in depth. It is bounded by faults. Rough preliminary estimates of the size of the water field is about 75 square miles.
Krompel pointed out that with all the water that the mine is presently pumping out, quite an impact has been made on Scofield Reservoir this past year.
"I talked with Mark Page (state water engineer) this morning and he told me that 75 percent of the inflow into the reservoir this year has come from what the mine has been pumping," said Krompel. "That's about 15,000 acre feet this year. Without that think of the trouble we would be in."
But the present water flow from the mine cannot go on forever. As the mine begins to move out of the section it is presently in, the amount of water pumped out will be decreased until it becomes minimal.
For the present, the water is being taken out of the mine and flows into Eccles Creek, then on into Clear Creek and ends up in