Echo Hill Mine expected to open in 2015

Trent Ernst, Editor
 
If you’ve never heard of the proposed Echo Hill Mine, you’re not alone. The new mine, which is expected to start operating in 2015 didn’t start out as Echo Hill. Instead, Echo Hill is the new name for Hillsborough Resources former AES Wapiti Project. 
 
In the mid-2000s, Hillsborough was working on building a thermal coal fired power plant mid-way between Tumbler Ridge and Dawson Creek. On February 13, 2007, the project was essentially killed by a throne speech by Lona Campagnolo, the then-Lieutenant Governor of BC, who stated, effective immediately, BC would become the first jurisdiction in North America to require 100 percent carbon sequestration for any  coal-fired project.
 
Though, for the last two years, says Hillsborough Resources Ltd. vice-president Gary Gould, Hillsborough has continued investigating the area with an eye towards exporting the coal to the Asian Market. Gould says because the proposed $35-million mine is no longer tied to a power plant, they’ve given the project a different name, a different look and a different presentation. “The mining method has changed,” says Gould. “We’ve looked at how to get that coal out of the ground and get that coal to market.”
 
While the price of coal has dropped off over the last year, he says the forecast for thermal coal looks good. “Of course, it’s always an unknown, but we’ve reengineered the project to make it viable.” Gould says the company expects to have the first coal coming out of the ground by the second quarter of 2015. This would be a fast time frame if the company were starting from scratch, but Gould says, much of the work has already been done. “The bulk of the exploration work has already been done beforehand,” he says. “There was a certain amount of environmental work done, too. Now, some of that is stale and has to be redone, but we started re-collecting data in 2010, getting groundwater monitoring in place.”
 
The new mine would be an open pit mine, with an annual production of between 1- and 1.5-million tonnes. 
 
Thermal coal is not something that has been mined in the Tumbler Ridge area before. Thermal coal is typically used in power generation, and has a lower value, currently selling at around $50 per ton, compared to Met coal’s $150 per ton. Gould is confident they will be able to make the mine work. Indeed, the company operates BC’s only underground coal mine on Vancouver Island, which sells thermal coal on the world market. 
 
When the mine opens, Gould says it will employ about 120 workers from Tumbler Ridge and Dawson Creek. If all goes according to plan, the company should have worked its way through the environmental process by the middle of next year.