Work progresses on methane capture in Redstone mines

Caskey measures a methane leak at the abandoned coal mines near Redstone.
Credit Chris Caskey/Delta Brick

Depending on how you measure, methane emissions in the atmosphere are up to 86 times more harmful than carbon-dioxide emissions.

The abandoned coal mines near Redstone threaten the environment with leaking methane. The Coal Basin Methane Project (CBMP) is working toward a plan to capture and dispose of the approximately 1.3 million cubic feet of methane trapped in the mines.

At the Pitkin County commissioners’ work session Tuesday, the Community Office for Resource Efficiency’s CBMP presented an update to commissioners on work to address the methane after the county allocated $200,000 to the effort in March 2022. 

CBMP also received $1.2 million in federal funds through the Department of Energy. 

Chris Caskey is the founder of Delta Brick & Climate Co., the group hired by CORE to lead the project. He said that the project is going well. 

“We spent some of that (money) on a cultural resources inventory where we had an archaeologist go out there and have a look. And, they said, ‘Sure enough, this was a coal mine,’” he said. “We’re also spending some of that money on a civil engineer who is looking at the road improvements that will be necessary for getting the equipment up there.”

The project is now in a permit phase. They submitted an SF-299 to the U.S Forest Service, similar to a land use permit. 

Once that application is approved and the team practices plugging leaks and maps out obstructions in the mines, the process to determine methane quality and quantity will begin.

This graphic illustrates how the flow test will measure methane quality. Credit Delta Brick & Climate Co.

“What we want to do with the flow test is dig away that earth, seal it a little bit, put a pipe in there, and pump a bunch of expansive foam, and we’ll do that with several of the leaks,” Caskey said. “And, that expensive foam will keep the methane in. We then put in our own pipe to gather the methane. The suck on that will measure (the quality and quantity) of the methane as it’s coming out. And, they will burn it just to keep that small amount out of the atmosphere.”

Caskey said the project is on track to perform the flow tests this summer. 

Low-quality gas will have to be burned through a flare, essentially lighting the methane on fire. It will convert the gas to carbon dioxide to release to the atmosphere. 

“It sounds unusual to go up in the mountains and burn things,” he commented. But, the flare method is not uncommon in methane disposal.

If the methane is found to be medium quality, it can be burned and converted to electricity.

Commissioners expressed interest in the electricity alternative, perceiving it as the more environmentally-friendly option. 

“I felt there was a lot of momentum towards the idea that there would be enough methane for (the project) to create electricity. And, I think just sort of got the same way at that time. And so, we were super excited about that,” Commissioner Francie Jacober said. 

Both methods will burn methane and result in the manufacture of water.

“When you’re burning methane, you’re making CO2 and H2O,” Caskey explained as an environmental benefit. “If you cool down that exhaust, just like steam coming out of the tailpipe, you can get liquid water. My sexy sell would be something around that.”

The manufactured water is estimated to result in less than 10 cubic acres of water.

A permanent project for a flare or electric generation facility would require a multi-year permit process. Caskey projected 2025 as the earliest start date for infrastructure installation on either disposal method. 

Mona Newton works on community outreach relating to the Coal Basin Methane Project. She is the former executive director of CORE and is now consulting on the project. 

She said the stakeholder group they organized includes Holy Cross Energy, Aspen Skiing Co., and the Roaring Fork Conservancy. The Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association and Wilderness Workshop are involved in the CBMP advisory group.

They are also looking to include Redstone community members to keep locals informed on their project and gather community input. 

“I think that the other piece that we want to communicate to them is that we are not attempting to do anything that’s harmful up there but actually opposite,” she said. “To help heal what’s been done there for 50 years and what’s been escaping.”

CBMP intends to host community information meetings in Redstone in March, tentatively dated March 2 and 8.

Correction: This article previously stated that CVEPA was a part of the CBMP stakeholder group, but they actually part of the advisory group. The article has been updated to reflect that change.