Canadian agency reviews plans for new British Columbia coking coal mine

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency said Oct. 13 that it must decide whether a federal environmental assessment is required for the proposed Michel Creek Coking Coal Project, located southeast of Sparwood in British Columbia.

To assist in making its decision, the agency is seeking comments from the public until Nov. 2 on the project and its potential effects on the environment. The British Columbia Environmental Assessment Office would conduct this review on the provincial level.

CanAus Coal Ltd., subsidiary of Australia’s CoalMont Pty Ltd., proposes to construct, operate, decommission and abandon an open-pit metallurgical coal mine in the Elk Valley, located about 15 kilometers southeast of Sparwood. As proposed, the Michel Creek Coking Coal Project would produce 3.5 million tonnes of raw coal per year (2.1 million clean tonnes), over a mine-life of at least 10 years.

As a next step, the federal agency will post a decision on its website stating whether an environmental assessment is required. If one is required, the public will have three more opportunities to comment on the project.

The licensed properties consist of three separate deposits referred to as Loop Ridge, Michel Head and Tent Mountain. CanAus is only proposing the mining of the Loop Ridge Deposit. This includes:

  • An annual production of 3.5 million tonnes raw coal (2.1 million tonnes clean) – based on plant throughput rates;
  • An average production rate of 5,800 clean tonnes per day (t/d), based on a 365-day operating period;
  • A Loop Ridge mine life of 10 years with the potential to extend the project life by approximately 10 years assuming positive exploration results from other license areas held by the company; and
  • An initial estimate of project disturbance footprint over the 10-year life-of-mine of approximately 1,000 hectares.

The north end of the project property is approximately 2 kilometerrs south of the Crowsnest Pass Highway (Hwy 3) and approximately 15 kilometers southeast of Sparwood. An all-weather access road currently extends from the highway to the site. The Canadian Pacific Railway, connecting eastern Canada with west coast ports including Vancouver, B.C., is located on the north boundary of the project area.

CanAus considers the project area to be a brownfield site, as the site was previously mined, with approximately 150,000 tonnes of coal extracted under a previous permit in the 1960s and 1990s. In addition to this mining activity, the area has been heavily logged over the last few years. As a result, it is estimated that approximately 20% of the total project footprint has been disturbed by previous industrial activity and based on future logging plans, over 60% of the area will be logged before construction begins on the Loop Ridge Mine.

The anticipated schedule for the project is:

  • Baseline studies, environmental assessment approval and permitting (2013 – Q3 2019);
  • Construction (Q3 2019 – Q4 2020);
  • Operation (Q4 2020 – Q4 2031);
  • Decommissioning (2031 – 2034); and
  • Closure and post-closure (2035).

The current conceptual mine plan utilizes open-pit bench mining methods in distinct phases in order to maximize waste rock management within the pit and facilitate progressive decommissioning of mine areas over the 10-year life of the Loop Ridge deposit. In this method of mining, coal seams are exposed by track dozers and hydraulic excavators removing waste rock. A drill and blast program is employed to loosen and fracture waste rock to provide a particle size distribution and looseness in the rock, suitable for high-efficiency working by the shovel and haul truck fleet.

The Central Processing Site (CPS) includes a Coal Handling System (CHS) and a Coal Preparation Plant (CPP). Run-of-mine coal is stockpiled or directly placed onto the coal handling system for treatment in the processing plant. The CPP uses a combination of heavy media cyclones, classifiers and floatation circuits to remove ash from the coal. Clean coal is dried using hyperbaric disc filters and centrifuges, then stockpiled and/or loaded into trains for transport to port. Rejects will be dewatered using a combination of thickening and filter presses.

The developer does not anticipate the need for the construction or operation of a purpose-built, conventional “wet tailings management facility” or “tailings impoundment area/tailings dam” at the site. All CPP wastes will be dewatered and disposed of using a process of co-deposition of dry tailings in the waste rock. Co-disposal of the plant refuse with pit waste rock minimizes the area disturbed and facilitates effective, long-term containment of waste.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.