Michael Hunter is a familiar name and face in Tumbler Ridge. He and his family have been here since 1993. Prior to coming here, Hunter worked for Luscar in Edson as a control room operator. When the family came to Tumbler Ridge, Hunter worked at Bullmoose Mine as a driller, putting in enough sweat equity to call himself a true pioneer. As did so many others, he had to land on his feet when the mine opportunities dissipated. But no matter where other paths lead you, it?s good to come back home.
Hunter spent most of last year traveling to Vancouver, working for the Canadian division of an Asian company, Dehua International Trading Ltd., a coal brokerage. Hunter is at last home again, handling the field office for First Coal Corporation. This company secures and develops coal properties within NE British Columbia and right now the coal market is hot. ?Especially metallurigical/coking coal, ? explains Hunter, adding, ?Coking coal is used for steel manufacturing.?
When Tumbler Ridge was first developed to accommodate the coal mining industry, the demand for steel from Japan was high and therefore so was coking coal, abundant in this area. Japan has since developed alternate ways to produce their own supply and so now it would seem the market demand comes heavily from China. South Korea has also recently struck major deals with coal companies. Hunter reports that while he is now working for First Coal Corporation, there is room to lend a hand to Dehua, who has also secured some properties in the NE British Columbia region (coal belt) as well.
Joint ventures as these are not uncommon. First Coal Corporation has interests in BC, Alberta and possible plans for a project in the US. This year, the company expects to be drilling, which will provide them with specific geology and coal quality. Following that is bulk sampling and when all is favourable, a mine is put into production.
Originally a net exporter of coal in the past, China is currently an importer and the demand is so high, the coking coal industry can barely keep up. Subsequently, this affects the price of steel and it becomes difficult to get your hands on it. Hunter says the Chinese have almost single-handedly altered the world coal market and with their massive population, they will manage approximately 40 million tonnes of metallergical coal each year just for Shandong Province. A mine such as Bullmoose produced between 1.0-1.2 million tonnes per year. All of the Canadian producers combined would not be able to satisfy the coal requirements of this one Chinese province. While visiting China in August and September of last year, Hunter took note that one steel producer, Shogang, has a 2.2 million acre site in Beijing and employs 90,000 workers.
?It is a very exciting time for the coal industry, generally. Especially coking coal.? states Hunter, adding that new techniques exist that will give First Coal Corporation a competitive edge. Environmentally, First Coal Corporation is focused on a ?blending coal?, a softer type that is less damaging to our ecosystem than harder coking coal. This has been an ongoing issue with coal over the years, however improvements have made coal a desirable choice once more.
As Hunter aptly puts it, ?We want to limit our environmental footprint.? The end result is to keep the area useable for game, sportsmen and the general public. First Coal Corporation plans to do reclamation every year, rather than wait until the mine is no longer open. They feel that it is more cost intensive to leave the job until the end. ?This will be a good litmus test to see how the clean coal initiative fares when the supply and demand is so hot?.
A summary of the breakdown of coal supply and demand:
70?s & 80?s ? Thermo coal was in demand. 80?s ? Metallurgical/coking coal as Japanese became involved in the market and agreed to pay premium prices to get exclusive tonnage, as they had no resource of their own. 90?s ? The Japanese determined they did not need as much coal, as the contracts came to an end. China/Austria?s supply affected our market. Recent ? China?s demand is so high that the need for coal production in our region is a commodity once more.
Hunter opened his doors in Tumbler Ridge on January 4th of this year. Incorporated in BC, the head office of First Coal Corporation is located in Vancouver. With the field office located in Tumbler Ridge, Hunter has opportunity to do a lot more work closer to home. I?m sure that suits the Hunter family just fine.