Energy Tour Day 4 – Coal Mining in Colstrip

Observing the coal fieldsWhat is better than lying on a beach in Cancun? Well I’m not sure if it’s being in Miles City but that is where we are at. After getting ready this morning we had a great breakfast with local attorneys and a district court judge, some of whom were UM graduates. They were happy to talk to us about everything from their local practice to how to succeed in law school. After breakfast, we jumped on the bus heading to the coal generators and mine in Colstrip.

We were greeted at the Colstrip generators by a welcoming staff, most of whom were also UM graduates. It was interesting to hear how PPL, the local power generating company, has had legal arguments that have gone all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, going to show how important these legal issues are. The local PPL counsel, along with their external affairs director and plant manager, educated us on how clean and efficient coal power is and were happy to answer every question we had.

View from the rooftopAfter this introduction to the facility, we began our tour. This was one of the highlights of our trip to date. We were given access to the entire coal power generation facilities, learning how coal is taken from its raw form all the way to pure electrical power.

We then moved on to the Rosebud Mine, which produces some of the coal that is used by the electrical generating facility. They were equally as welcoming and took us on a tour of the mine. We found out how they perform surface mining for coal with draglines. It was incredible to see the giant size of the machines that extract coal from the ground. And as the environment is a concern among everyone in this day and age, it was equally amazing to see the lengths the mine goes to in order to reclaim the used lands that have been mined.

Lecture on the busAs we left the mine, we were joined by Billings attorneys from Crowley Fleck who work in the coal mine permitting process. We had a chance to learn about their backgrounds and how complex mining legal issues can be. They were happy to answer all of our questions on the road to Billings. Tomorrow morning we look forwarding to meeting them and their colleagues for breakfast. After that we will be touring a distribution control center in Butte as well as a natural gas energy generation facility in Anaconda. Check back tomorrow to see how our 1,400 mile, 5 day trip ends!

Written by: Mike Pasque '16