By JAMES MacPHERSON
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) a¿¿ Two companies that have spent several years and $8 million in state money studying a pair of projects to develop North Dakota's coal industry must soon decide whether to seek another extension or walk away from the projects.
The state would recoup part of its money if the projects are abandoned, and one state official said she expects extension requests for both. But the lack of progress a¿¿ one project has been on the drawing board in various forms for more than a decade a¿¿ has some environmental groups questioning why the state would continue to support them when oil and even wind have grown much hotter in recent years.
"They are dead in the water," said Wayde Schafer, a North Dakota spokesman for the Sierra Club, which has opposed both coal projects. "No progress has been made on either of them and nothing to show for the money they've spent."
A spokesman for one of the companies, North American Coal Corp., said Friday the company "likely will ask for an extension through 2014."
"We still believe the project is an important part of the nation's energy solution," spokesman David Straley said.
Representatives from the company running the other project, South Heart Coal LLC, did not return phone calls seeking comment this week from The Associated Press.
"These projects will mean more coal being mined and more tax revenue to the state, but there is a great deal of uncertainty regarding coal-based projects," said Steve Van Dyke, a spokesman for the Bismarck-based Lignite Energy Council.
Long before the oil boom that made North Dakota the nation's second-largest oil producer, the state was encouraging development of its low-grade but abundant lignite coal as an energy source and economic engine. North Dakota produces about 30 million tons of lignite annually.