BNI, Coal, News, Blog

Historic milestone: BNI marks 1,000 days without an on-the-job injury

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 3:46 PM 0

One thousand days equals 24,000 hours or 1,440,000 minutes. As of April 10, that’s how long BNI Coal has gone without an on-the-job injury that resulted in an employee missing time from work.

It’s believed to be the first time in BNI’s 90-year history that the company has achieved the 1,000-day milestone, and reflects the hard work and renewed commitment to safety following an accident in November 2013 that resulted in an employee losing a leg.

“This tremendous accomplishment reflects how employees strengthened their commitment to a Zero Injury safety culture,” said Wade Boeshans, president and general manager of BNI Energy. “We came together five years ago on the heels of John’s (Renaud) serious injuries, formed what we called the Safety Culture Team, and recommitted to Zero Injury.”

After Renaud’s accident, all employees participated in a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats analysis regarding safety. That led to the formation of the Safety Culture Team that identified safety initiatives focused on training, hazard recognition, communications and accountability.

“This was a significant inflection point in the safety culture at BNI in which all employees demanded complete commitment, engagement and accountability for safety from themselves, their co-workers and the organization,” Boeshans said. “While I am pleased with the 1,000-day accomplishment as it reflects all the hard work we did, I am most proud of the team for changing the safety culture. Nearly half of BNI employees joined the organization in the last five years and were not part of the safety analysis or the Safety Culture Team, and yet the safety culture has transcended workforce transition. I couldn’t be prouder of our team and our organization for the courage and the commitment to change culture.”

BNI celebrated its achievement on April 11 with breakfast for first shift employees and lunch for second shift workers.

“This milestone is a true testament of our employees continued focus on not ‘just having to be safe’ but ‘wanting to be safe,’ ” said Jay Volk, health, safety and environmental services manager. “It is a huge part of what makes BNI successful.”

Mike Heger, operations manager, agrees.

“One thousand days without an LTA (lost time accident) is a very impressive accomplishment for an operation of our size,” Heger said. “This achievement is the direct result of a tremendously improved safety culture at BNI, coupled with a few modest improvements to our equipment and processes. I see this as a strong signal that our ultimate goal of Zero Injury is attainable and well within reach. Congratulations to the entire organization.”


Excavator operator Casey Leingang participates in recent self-descent training at BNI. The training teaches operators how to quickly and safely exit an excavator in case of an emergency that cuts off access to the regular exits.


A Kress coal hauler loaded with 240 tons of lignite from the Center Mine makes its way to the Milton R. Young Station, where it will be used to generate power. Nearly all the lignite coal mined by BNI is consumed at the Young station.


Wade Boeshans, BNI president and general manager, congratulates the BNI team for achieving 1,000 days without an on-the-job injury that resulted in an employee missing time from work. BNI celebrated the achievement with breakfast and lunch for employees.

ACE, BNI give $50,000 to North Dakota engineering program

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 3:31 PM 0

Donations from ALLETE Clean Energy and BNI Energy will help the University of Mary build a new School of Engineering.

ALLETE Clean Energy and BNI Energy each gave $25,000 toward the new home for the engineering school at the private Catholic university in Bismarck, North Dakota. The University of Mary broke ground April 25 on the $12 million project, an aggressive renovation of the university’s old North Dining Hall. Currently, engineering classes are scattered across the campus.

“BNI and ACE are proud to partner to provide a collective $50,000 donation toward this important workforce development resource,” said ALLETE Clean Energy President Al Rudeck who attended the groundbreaking on behalf of ALLETE.

The university’s engineering program began enrolling students in 2016, when the program was created in response to an increasing demand for engineers, especially in the oil fields of western North Dakota. Today, the university offers civil, mechanical and electrical engineering and expects to have about 120 students enrolled this fall. The program graduated its first student in April.

BNI President and General Manager Wade Boeshans said the donation is a reflection of ALLETE’s commitment to education and the importance of developing a skilled workforce.

“Workforce demands in North Dakota and the region continue to grow, and we’re honored to play a part in helping the University of Mary educate the next generation of engineers, fill a workforce shortage and support a healthy economy,” Boeshans said.


University of Mary President MonsignorJames Shea and ALLETE Clean Energy President Al Rudeck at the groundbreaking ceremony in April for the university’s engineering school.    

                                                                                                  Wade Boeshans

Boeshans Named Lignite Energy Council President

Tuesday, May 1, 2018 12:00 AM 0

BNI Energy President and General Manager Wade Boeshans assumed the role of chairman of the Lignite Energy Council at its board meeting on April 4.  Boeshans replaced outgoing chairman Paul Sukut, general manager and CEO of Basin Electric, at the LEC’s spring board meeting.                                                                                                    

Boeshans shared his family history of growing up in the heart of North Dakota coal country, where his family has lived for generations. He recalled his early childhood as a proud Beulah Miner and what the economic benefits of lignite coal industry expansion in the 1970s and early 1980s meant to the state, the region, his family and the region’s way of life. 

“I am honored to be serving as the chairman of the Lignite Energy Council for the next two years,” Boeshans said to the several hundred LEC meeting attendees. “We have a unique opportunity to position the industry for continued success amid a variety of industry trends.”

Also at the meeting, ALLETE Chairman, President and CEO Al Hodnik transitioned ALLETE’s LEC board seat to Al Rudeck, president of ALLETE Clean Energy.

“It has been rewarding for me to contribute to LEC’s strategy and member value proposition” Hodnik said. “ALLETE’s support of the Lignite Energy Council is illustrative of our employees developing strong partnerships in our shared purpose to answer the call to transform the nation’s water and energy landscape. Wade and Al make a great team and will carry sensible energy policy and thought leadership forward, consistent with ALLETE’s all-of-the-above energy policy philosophy and sustainability value.”

ALLETE has been a longtime member of the Lignite Energy Council, a trade association of more than 250 companies that together maintain a viable lignite coal industry and enhance development of the region’s lignite coal resources for use in generating electricity, synthetic natural gas and valuable byproducts. Members of the Lignite Energy Council include mining companies, major consumers of lignite, and businesses that provide goods and services to the lignite industry.

The lignite industry is North Dakota’s fifth-largest industry behind agriculture, oil and gas, tourism and manufacturing. The lignite industry (coal mining and coal conversion) accounted for $3.4 billion of the state's economic base in 2015.

This article was reprinted with permission from ALLETE Stream.

     Wade Boeshans                         Al Rudeck

Record Setting Year

Monday, January 1, 2018 12:00 AM 0

A record-setting year at BNI’s Center Mine helped propel total lignite production in North Dakota to a banner year in 2017.

The Center Mine produced more than 4.65 million tons in 2017, topping its previous record of 4.60 million tons in 2002. Together, North Dakota’s five mines produced 29.1 million tons of lignite in 2017, which was the highest annual tonnage since 2009.

Wade Boeshans, president and general manager of BNI Energy, said 2017 was a milestone year for BNI on many fronts: sales, profitability, project execution, safety and environmental performance, and costs to customers that were 7 percent below budget.

“These results are a true reflection of our team’s commitment to the right results, the right way,” Boeshans said. “Our strategy for our mining operations going into the year was to focus on safe, efficient and cost-competitive operations. We knew that we had to effectively execute this strategy while living our values to bend our cost curve and position our customers to compete in a very competitive power market. I’m very proud of our team, their commitment to our values and strategy, and the results they delivered in 2017.”

BNI celebrated its achievement on January 11 with a fleischkuekle feed at the mine and the company also purchased vests for all BNI employees. The Center Mine feeds the adjacent Milton R. Young Station, which recorded its second highest peak for most electricity generated in a single year over the past 40 years. The Minnkota Power Cooperative’s power plant had an extended maintenance outage in 2016 and a number of major outages in recent years as it invested more than $425 million in environmental upgrades, but there were no major outages in 2017.

Here’s what other North Dakota mines produced in 2017, according to the Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune:

  • Freedom Mine north of Beulah, the largest lignite mine in the United States, produced and sold more than 14.7 million tons of lignite to the Antelope Valley Station, Leland Olds Station and the Great Plains Synfuels Plant. All three plants are owned by Basin Electric Power Cooperative.
  • The Falkirk Mining Co. near Underwood produced 7.2 million tons, which were sold to Great River Energy’s Coal Creek Station and Spiritwood Station.
  • The Coyote Creek Mine sold 2.1 million tons to Otter Tail Power Co.’s Coyote Station. North American Coal Corp. owns the Freedom Mine, the Falkirk Mine and the Coyote Creek Mine.

Dakota Westmoreland’s Beulah Mine sold 437,000 tons to Montana-Dakota’s Heskett Station north of Mandan.

North Dakota’s seven lignite-based power plants generate enough electricity to serve 2 million families in North Dakota and surrounding states.

“The lignite industry is unique in that our plants are generally adjacent to the mines, which reduces transportation costs,” Jason Bohrer, president of the Lignite Energy Council, said in a statement. “It also 

means our state benefits from the jobs associated from both the mines and the power plants along with low-cost, reliable electricity generated from lignite.”

BNI Employee Celebration

Reclamation and Safety Awards

Sunday, October 1, 2017 12:00 AM 0

BNI Coal received the North Dakota Award for Excellence in Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation from the Public Service Commission at the Annual Fall Meeting of the Lignite Energy Council. BNI received the award for “Reclaiming an Inert Waste Disposal Facility at the Center Mine.” 

The waste disposal facility was a mining pit that was permitted under mining regulations. It was mined in the late 1990s. After coal removal, BNI removed the acreage from the mining permit.  Minnkota Power then permitted the area as a waste disposal facility under the Department of Health. The disposal facility was designed to support 30 years of bottom ash production from the Milton R. Young Station. As new markets for bottom ash developed, Minnkota no longer needed the area for ash disposal.

To reclaim this area, BNI analyzed several different scenarios and determined that redisturbing and reshaping previously reclaimed land around the ash cell was the most cost-effective option. This option required significant permit revisions. These revisions laid out the plan for restriping previously mined areas around the ash cell and cutting out areas of spoil to fill the pit. BNI opened up 86 acres of previously reclaimed land surrounding the ash cell as a borrow area.

 Approximately ten feet of spoil material was removed from the area and used to help fill in the pit. The topography of the borrow area was then reshaped to blend the newly reclaimed area into the surrounding reclamation land.

All told, BNI removed 8 stockpiles, most of which were twenty or more years old. 2.9 million cubic yards of spoil were required to fill the cell, which required BNI to move over 1 million cubic yards of soil a year beginning in 2015. After initial seeding, which will be done in the spring of 2018, BNI will be able to initiate the 10 year liability period on almost two sections of land that was being used for the ash cell, stockpiles, diversions, and roads. This land will then be eligible for final bond release.

“This is a great example of the lignite industry going above and beyond regulatory requirements. By working together, and with multiple agencies, BNI and Minnkota have returned this land to a more productive use,” says Jay Volk, BNI Environmental Manager. “Our Environmental and Engineering departments did a great job working under the jurisdictions of two different state regulatory agencies during the permitting process. Our equipment operators and supervisors in the field have done an excellent job as well. At times, we had two excavators and six end-dump trucks hauling through this area, along with numerous dozers and motor graders. Their commitment to safety during this project has been fantastic, and we’re currently at 469 days and counting without a lost time accident.”

The Center Mine also received a Distinguished Safety Award for 2016 from the LEC. Distinguished Safety Awards are awarded to lignite mines and power plants that have accident rates lower than the national average. BNI achieved a .063 accident rate in 2016.

Jay Volk, Stephanie Griffin, and Jon Rudnick accept the Award for Excellence in Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation from Public Service Commissioner

North Dakota winters present challenges to BNI Coal’s Center Mine

Wednesday, March 22, 2017 1:59 PM 0

Extreme weather conditions are part of living in North Dakota. It is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Those temperature extremes are also when electric customers use the most power, which means the power plants need a dependable source of fuel. For the Milton R. Young Station, the supplier for the past 40 years has been BNI Coal’s Center Mine.

Winter conditions present challenges to the employees of the Center Mine, but it also has its advantages including stable road surfaces that make it easier for haulers to navigate the mine site.

At the Center Mine, near Center, North Dakota, the employees know all about changing seasons and the changes in operations to meet the seasonal challenges.

“Cold winter weather means more stress for both employees and equipment,” said Mike Heger, production manager at the Center Mine. “The weather changes, but the things that remain constant at the mine are a focus on safety and our culture to do things right.”

Heger says that winter actually has a couple of advantages to mining coal. One is that employees are generally at work because they take their vacations in the summer when the weather is nice. The second is that the ground is firm, which helps big earth-moving equipment when it’s traveling or moving earth.

The challenges are snow storms and extremely cold weather, such as minus 20 degrees, he said. Blizzards can shut a mine down because of lack of visibility. Also extremely cold weather is hard on equipment because frozen steel can become brittle.

Mike Heger, production manager for BNI Coal’s Center Mine.

“If it gets below minus 20, we’ll shut the dragline down rather than risk the equipment or the operators,” he added. The dragline is the largest earth-moving equipment at the mine and removes the clay that overlays the beds of coal.

Reclamation activities, such as spreading or collecting top soil or subsoil, stop during the winter. However, miners will use bulldozers to level spoil peaks left from mining activities and grade them to contours that will allow other reclamation activities to resume when spring weather returns.

Despite the challenges, the employees continue digging coal to meet the fuel requirements of the adjacent Young Station, which includes two separate units. During the year, the mine can supply up to 4.5 million tons of lignite coal.

Lignite – a soft coal that is about a third water – provides the energy to turn the water in the power plant’s boiler into a pure stream of steam that is used to turn a turbine and generate electricity. The Young Station provides electricity mostly to rural electric customers in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota.

BNI employs about 170 workers, with about 70 of them working per shift along with the office and support people. Normally, the dragline works 24-hours per day uncovering coal, but Heger said the mine shuts down for major holidays such as Christmas.

“It’s important that are employees spend Christmas with their families so we adjust schedules to make sure that we have enough coal stockpiled for the power plant to allow our employees time away from the mine,” Heger said.

About one-third of the miners at BNI Coal have worked there more than 30 years while about two-thirds joined in the last 10 years to replace many of the people who started working at the mine in the 1970s when the Young Station was built and the Center Mine began supplying fuel.

“Working in the lignite industry is a profession that people like because of the high wages, the benefits and the safe working conditions,” he added. “As the workforce has changed, we have worked very hard to maintain our focus on culture and safety, and we have been able to find new employees with experience in both mining and using large equipment.”

“Our customer is the Young Station and they expect us to deliver the fuel they need to operate reliably,” Heger said. “Our employees work hard and take great pride in what they do. Whether it’s a cold winter, a muddy spring or a hot summer, we’ve a proven track record of providing fuel that is low cost and delivered right to the power plant.”

BNI Coal is a subsidiary of ALLETE, which is headquartered in Duluth, Minnesota. ALLETE is also the parent company of Minnesota Power.


Article sourced from Lignite Energy Council located here: 

Quist Joins BNI Energy

Friday, July 1, 2016 12:00 AM 0

Paul Quist has joined BNI Energy as Manager of Business Development. The Manager of Business Development position was created to better position the company to execute its go-forward strategy.  Paul will be leading BNI’s growth initiatives and supporting our energy solutions initiatives including the Allam Cycle initiative.  Paul was previously employed with ESCO Supply managing their operations in North Dakota and Minnesota.  Prior to joining ESCO, Paul worked with Basin Electric in their business development and CO2 marketing functions.  He played a key role in Basin’s acquisition of Montana Lime Stone and Dakota Gasification Company by-product market development.  Paul is also an adjunct professor at the University of Mary teaching economics.

Paul and his family live in Bismarck.  Paul was elected to the Lignite Energy Council Board of Directors in 2015 and subsequently in 2016.  Consequently, Paul is very familiar with the Lignite Industry, has great contacts within the Energy Industry, and work experiences that complement our team nicely.  The culture, values and strategic vision of BNI/ALLETE attracted Paul to BNI.  I think Paul is a great fit with our team and culture and am excited to have him on our team working closely with us to execute our go-forward strategy.

BNI Announces Formation of BNI Energy to Target Sustainable Energy Solutions

Monday, February 1, 2016 12:00 AM 0

BNI Coal has a new parent company, BNI Energy, which will pursue opportunities in the energy sector, including carbon solutions in North Dakota. A new logo for BNI Energy and an updated logo for BNI Coal reflect the corporate structure change.

The new company will leverage the competencies and capabilities of BNI Coal and its deep roots in North Dakota’s lignite coal industry. A native North Dakota mining company, BNI Coal started mining in northwestern North Dakota in 1930 and has been mining lignite for the Milton R. Young Station since 1970 at its Center Mine location. Today, BNI mines about 4.5 million tons of lignite coal annually, supplying both units of the Milton R. Young Station.

Wade Boeshans, president and general manager of BNI Energy, met with employees Thursday to outline the vision and strategy of the new company.

“The creation of BNI Energy reflects the long-term direction of our company and future growth opportunities for our company and our team,” Boeshans said. “I am excited about the next chapter in BNI history as we secure our future while remaining committed to the lignite coal industry. I am excited about our strategy to pursue new opportunities and creative solutions. While we believe there is a promising future for BNI Coal in North Dakota, we also recognize the need for new and transformational solutions to realize it.”

“Increasing regulation has placed a priority and urgency on finding energy solutions that balance environmental concerns and the energy needs of consumers. BNI has been an energy leader for decades, and I’m excited about our natural progression into exploring other areas of the energy industry while advancing sustainable solutions for North Dakota,” said Robert J. Adams, ALLETE senior vice president – energy-centric businesses. “I’m also pleased to announce that Wade Boeshans, who has so effectively led BNI Coal, will take on additional responsibilities as president and general manager of BNI Energy.”

BNI Energy intends to explore opportunities in all forms of energy production, including value-added infrastructure services.

BNI Energy is partnering with Minnesota Power, Basin Electric Cooperative, and the Energy Environmental Research Center based in Grand Forks to develop a transformational coal technology, the Allam Cycle. The promising technology could yield an electric generator powered by lignite with nearly no emissions of carbon dioxide. In 2015, the partnership received a $1.5 million Lignite Research Council grant and $900,000 from the Department of Energy to help advance research for the design of an Allam Cycle plant using lignite as the fuel source.

“The research holds promise for North Dakota to continue to use its abundant coal resources while meeting proposed CO2 emissions standards and allow for future construction of lignite-fueled power plants to meet electricity needs,” Boeshans said.


Buzz builds as BNI's giant dragline makes its way to new home

Tuesday, March 3, 2015 3:14 PM 0

Liberty, BNI Coal’s giant dragline, is generating a lot of local attention as it moves to its new location at the mine near Center, N.D.

The 9-million-pound dragline began its move in February, and crossed the DC Line and a county road Thursday. Cars of 30-40 residents lined the road and farmers came in from their fields to take in the rare sight of giant mining equipment on special wheeled vehicles.

Wade Boeshans, general manager and president of BNI Coal, said that at one point the relocation efforts were stopped in order to escort a school bus across the road.

“You could see all the kids’ faces pressed up against the window watching this massive machine as they went by. You know it’s a pretty big deal when the teenagers look up from their phones,” he said.

Crews had to drop a series of power lines, including a direct current transmission line linking Center with a substation near Duluth, to ensure proper clearance for Liberty. As of 11:30 a.m. today, Liberty was 2¾ miles from its destination. The dragline is expected to arrive at its new home late Friday afternoon or early Saturday.

Last year, the number of acres under permit at the Center Mine doubled to about 18,000 acres, and the dragline is making the eight-mile journey to a new area, located about four miles south of the Milton R. Young Generating Station. Nearly all the lignite coal mined by BNI is consumed at the Young station.


Liberty and the smaller Page dragline, which was moved earlier in February, are equipped with a “walking” apparatus that can propel them by way of gears and camshafts connected to two huge mechanical “shoes.” After much analysis, BNI officials determined that it would be more efficient, safe, and cost-effective to transport the draglines to the new location rather than “walk” them.

Photos from top to bottom:
The Liberty dragline is on the move.
BNI, ALLETE and elected officials at a press event last week.

Dragline rolls to new location in first act of BNI's big move

Monday, February 16, 2015 12:00 AM 0

The first of two giant moves is complete at BNI Coal.

A Page 736 dragline, weighing about 2 million pounds, was lifted onto a special wheeled vehicle and moved to a new location at the mine site near Center, N.D., late Friday.

But last week’s move—as big as it is—is only the warmup for this week’s event. That’s when Liberty—BNI’s 9-million-pound dragline—will be on wheels. It will be the first time a dragline the size of Liberty is moved by a wheeled vehicle in North Dakota.

“The whole relocation process went very smooth,” said Wade Boeshans, general manager of BNI. “Our team did an exceptional job planning and communicating throughout the process. The contractor, Mammoet, was very well organized and demonstrated exceptional knowledge and expertise. I am very pleased with our team’s willingness to think creatively and take a risk. They navigated it all masterfully.

Both draglines are being moved as the lignite mine expands. Last year, the number of acres under permit at the Center Mine doubled to about 18,000 acres, and the draglines are being moved to Area C, about four miles south of the Milton R. Young Generating Station. The draglines remove the top layers of earth to expose the coal seams. They don’t actually dig the coal, but they make it possible for BNI to extract and deliver about 90,000 tons of coal a week. Nearly all the lignite coal mined by BNI is consumed at the Young station.

Mammoet, a Dutch company known as a world leader in engineered heaving lifting and transport, was hired to haul the two draglines on specially configured “self-propelled modular transporters.” These transporters have hydraulically-driven wheels pinned together lengthwise in “trains,” each powered by a 600-horsepower engine. Moving Liberty, a Bucyrus 8200 dragline, will require seven trains of transports 65 feet wide, with 197 axles and 877 pneumatic tires. The Page dragline requires 36 axles and 177 tires.

First, a series of 500-ton climbing jacks are placed around the dragline so the giant shovel can be lifted six to eight inches to make room to place the modular transporters underneath.

Liberty and the Page dragline are each equipped with a “walking” apparatus that can propel them by way of gears and camshafts connected to two huge mechanical “shoes.”  After much analysis, BNI officials determined it would be more efficient, safe and cost-effective to transport the draglines rather than “walk” them as is traditionally done.

For one thing, using the modular transporters to move an enormous dragline is much faster than walking it—about one mile per hour compared to about seven feet a minute. Walking the draglines would be hard on the equipment and require more road construction and environmental expenditure. For most of the journey, the transporters will be able to roll down a BNI haul road. 

During their eight-mile journey, the draglines must get past four high voltage power lines, including the DC Line that moves electricity from the Bison Wind Energy Center to a substation near Duluth. The power lines will be lowered before the draglines reach them and raised again afterward. A bridge and county road will be bypassed, and BNI built a special haul road to negotiate Hagel Creek.

The dragline moves come after months of planning that involved BNI’s engineering, environmental, production, maintenance, safety, training, purchasing and administrative teams.

Mammoet gained fame as a mover of heavy equipment in October 2000, when it was awarded a contract to salvage the Russian submarine Kursk, which exploded and sank in the Barents Sea. The company managed to lift the sub off the sea floor and bring it to the surface. Unexploded torpedoes, cruise missiles and two nuclear reactors were on board the vessel.