A coal pillar at a Utah mine caught fire by spontaneous combustion in late September, posing a risk to power generation at Rocky Mountain Power’s Hunter and Huntington power plants.

The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said it considers the Lila Canyon Mine fire to be an “emergency that necessitates an emergency response.” It said that if the fire is not contained shortly, a “high risk exists” that the mine would have to shut down permanently. 

Lila Canyon produces 3.47 million tons of coal per year, about 28% of Utah’s total coal. Around 40% of its coal is delivered to the 1,472 MW Hunter and the 996 MW Huntington power plants, which generated a combined 15,513 GWh in 2021.

Spontaneous combustion is not unusual for coal in western states like Utah and Colorado. The fires can lead to a mine’s permanent closure, particularly if water is used to flood a mine.

BLM approved a plan for Emery County Coal Resources, Inc., to take measures on 7.3 surface acres to fight the fire, which is near Price, Utah. 

Plans call for drill pads, boreholes, road improvements, and a temporary above-ground water pipeline to help fight the fire. 

In late September, Emery County Coal determined from air sampling and visual data that cutting off oxygen in the mine prevented the fire from spreading, but that it continues to smolder.

Emery asked BLM in an emergency request for approval to drill more boreholes to seal the burn area from the surface, dewater one section of the mine to flood the burn area, and conduct additional atmospheric monitoring.

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