BILLINGS – Coal mining in the Bull Mountains may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Cracks in the earth related to mining, called subsidence cracks, are one of the reasons landowners have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for granting a 2012 coal lease in Musselshell County.
Steve Charter is one of the ranchers involved. He explains that the BLM study that claimed surface effects would be minimal can’t possibly be true based on what’s being observed at other nearby mines. And there are below-ground concerns, too, he says.
“Our main water aquifer is above the coal seam, so, you know, we’re real worried that, that could be damaged,” Charter warns.
Charter is chairman of the Northern Plains Resource Council, which filed the suit with landowners. He says some of the cracks have been 15 feet wide and 19 feet deep.
Sometimes they heal on their own after the coal is mined, but not always - and the cracks are a livestock safety hazard.
He contends that the BLM conclusion of “minimal impact” was based on data gathered in 1990 – before the area was mined.
“They could have actually went and looked at what was actually happening, and instead of that, they took 20-year old, stale data,” he says.