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Quintette feasibility study continues

By Greg Amos

October 14,2010

Work related to a feasibility study is well underway at Tumbler Ridge's long dormant Quintette mining operation, and a recent presentation by Teck is optimistic on the mine's odds of reopening.
At last week's 2010 Community Coal Forum in Chetwynd, Teck community liaison Ray Proulx unveiled the mining giant's plans to increase its coal production in B.C. by 50 per cent by 2012.
The Quintette restart is poised to be the single biggest component of the company's planned increases. If Teck's board approves reopening the operation, coal will be produced at Quintette by 2013.
"The price of (metallurgical) coal is in $200 to $225 per tonne right now, and the cost of production is close to $100 per tonne," said Tumbler Ridge Mayor Larry White, who attended the forum. "If that stays for the next year, while they're doing the study, I would say the mine is a done deal." "We should know for sure in about a year."
Work crews and mining equipment for the feasibility study were mobilized early in September, after a summer spent planning things out, said Proulx. The area of study covers 400 hectares, and is centred around the on Big Windy, Little Windy, and Window pits in the Mt. Babcock area. Those pits were in production from 1997 through 2000, at which point they "put to bed with some overburden," explained Proulx. Overall, Quintette produced coal from 1982 until 2000.
Work now being carried out includes a geotechnical drilling program, pit design, coal sampling, collecting baseline environmental information, and confirmation of permitting status. It's all designed around the premise that these pits can produce about three million tonnes of coal per year.
Heading up the work is Ausenco Sandwell, an Australian engineering contractor. Klohn Crippen Berger is carrying out the geotechnical work, while Stantech is looking after the environmental studies. Proulx said there are about 30 people working on site at any given time.
In an article published on last Monday (October 4), Teck's senior vice-president of corporate affairs Ron Vance said restart costs could be in the $600 million to $700 million range. While final costs will be determined by the study, the fact that original infrastructure such as the conveyor belt and wash plant are still in place will help to keep the costs under control. A restart would also require building a new 140 metre loud-out rail loop at the plant.
Since 2000, only a site superintendent and a security person have been on the site full time. A leaking roof in the office has created a mould problem; as a result, Teck is looking at either stripping the building's interior down to concrete or steel, or tearing the building down and putting up a new one.
"It's a matter of economics, and most importantly, safety," said Proulx.
The feasibility study is expected to be submitted by the third quarter of 2011, and a final decision on whether to proceed with the re-opening will be made by Teck's board of directors in the last quarter of 2011. In the meantime, Teck plans to engage the community and help it prepare for a possible re-opening - a change that could mean 350 to 400 new mining jobs in Tumbler Ridge.
"The community has to react and adjust to these things," explained Proulx. "We can provide an indication of progress as we go, and hopefully within the next couple of months we'll have more regular communications channels established."
The dialogue will include discussion about the effect of production increases and coal exploration at several mining operations and tenures around Tumbler Ridge - a part of the mining industry's corporate philosophy that likely wasn't around in 1982, Proulx said.
"Accountability to communities wasn't in the equation back then," he said. "The discussion around cumulative effects was likely never brought up. Now there is a huge amount of exploration taking place, and there are some new junior companies in the area."
At last week's coal forum, White said he was pleased to hear the Boulder Gardens hiking area adjacent to Peace River Coal - but under a Teck tenure - has little coal potential.
"If they don't have a need or a use for it, I'd like to see that area being given to the town," said White. A plan for the mine to stay in operation for 15 to 20 years, regardless of cyclical variations in coal prices, would also be beneficial for Tumbler Ridge, White said. Assurances of long-term jobs will encourage developers to build new housing in the district, he said.
Proulx is available to provide more information about the project to anyone who's interested. He can be reached by phone at 242-3824, in his office (unit #15 in 235 Front Street), or stopped on the street to answer any questions.
Teck is the largest producer of metallurgical coal in North America, and the world's second largest supplier of coal to the steelmaking industry.