Trent Ernst, Editor
On August 18, the application review period for HD Mining ended, sending the mine into the next stage of the Environmental Assessment process.
The review period was supposed to end on June 1, but HD asked for a 30 day extension to allow additional time to “conduct the collection and analysis of additional samples to support the company’s geochemical analysis.”
The deadline was then extended another 48 days by the EAO, to allow time to “incorporate the findings of the review in the EAO Assessment Report; and provide HD Mining International, the working group, and First Nations with the opportunity to review and comment on the documentation developed by EAO,” wrote Project Assessment Manager Michael Peterson.
But with rumours flying around town of the impending closure of the mine, we wanted to find out where things were at.
“No, we are not shutting down,” says Blair Lekstrom, Community Liaison for HD Mining. He says this rumour comes as the company has begun planning the next few steps in the process. “Right now, we’re working towards D seam for our bulk sample,” says Lekstrom. “We are currently down about 1.2 km. We’re very close to D seam. Once you get that close, though, you have to go slow. You have to forward drill and test for coal bed methane. Right now, we’ve only got 100 to 200 metres to go.”
What happens when they hit the seam? Lekstrom says work will slow down even more as they make sure everything is safe for the miners. Then, they will begin working on their bulk sample. “We hope to have bulk sample at year end,” he says.
It’s not going to be that much of a bulk sample, though. The company has been permitted to take up to 100,000 tonnes. “We don’t need anywhere near that,” says Lekstrom. “We will probably extract only 50 tonnes. Not even 50,000. 50.”
And here, he says, is where the message got mangled. “Once that’s completed, there will be no work at the mine left to do. So the workers will head home. We told our contractors that we would be stopping work, and that’s probably where the rumours began. It is not unusual to see rumours like this. There’s a lot of emotion and uncertainty in Tumbler, but we’ve made a commitment to get this mine up and started.”
He says the mine itself will go into care and maintenance mode, as the mine wends its way through the political processes needed to establish the mine. “We are still in the environmental process,” says Lekstrom. While the provincial ministers have 45 days to decide on whether to issue an Environmental Assessment Certificate, the mine is also undergoing a federal review, which is a few months behind the provincial review. Lekstrom says the company is expecting that to be completed by the end of the year.
Once all the Environmental Certificates are issued, says Lekstrom, the company still has to be approved for its Mines Act Certificate. This is anywhere from a three month to 12 month process. Once all this is completed, he says, then the company will make its decision whether to proceed.
But that puts construction of the actual mine out to early 2017, leaving about 12 months or so where nothing will be happening at the mine site. “The company has invested 150 million to date in the bulk sample,” says Lekstrom. “We are committed to this mine, and I am optimistic it will be a go.”
One of the reasons the mine would still be viable, says Lekstrom, is the fact that Longwall mining is very efficient. “Our ability to recover the coal seam is very significant,” he says. “We can recover about 90 percent of the coal seam, without having to remove overburden. There’s a huge cost to moving overburden in open pit. We’re pretty optimistic on this. I have to believe this is the new future of coal mining. This technique has a far lesser footprint, has a better recovery rate, and it looks like the wave of the future. We will be able to produce coal as economically as anyone on the planet.”
Still, price is a factor, and Lekstrom says, while they aren’t dragging their feet, the mine isn’t rushing forward to start mining coal to sell at the lowest price in over a decade. “If the price keeps going down, then there’s an economic decision that needs to be made,” says Lekstrom. “But the timing is lining up with when we think there’s going to be a recovery.”
For now, he says, work continues on the decline, and, while the hope is to be at the coal seam in a month, but things are never as simple as one might hope. “It’s so speculative for the simple fact if we drill a pre-hole and hit a gas seam, it slows things down considerably. Within a month would be nice, but you can never predict what Mother Nature will throw at you.
Lekstrom says August 18 marked the culmination of a huge amount of work. “We have 12 three-inch binders full of material,” he says. “We’re optimistic we will get the go ahead. The impact this coal mine will have is minimal compared to open pit.”
Where people in town will see the most work is at the housing site, he says. They are going to be cleaning up the site in the next little while, and working with District on road network, lighting, landscaping, etc. “What’s interesting is this isn’t HD’s project;” says Lekstrom. “It was a contractor that built this. But we’re going to make this work.”
He says the big white tent should be down by end of September, then moved to the mine site. The pipe that is still on site is for storm sewer work. “We should begin work on roads this year,” he says. “But it is getting late in the year, so we’ll be keeping our eyes on the weather.”