Work Underway at Murray River Mine

Trent Ernst, Editor

A worker stands in front of the portal that is under construction. When complete, the portal will lead into an underground tunnel 1.6 km long, leading down to the coal seam.

The temperature hovers around zero as a group of HD Mining staff make their way to the Murray River Mine Site, a few kilometers past the once and future Quintette Mine Site. The roads are icy, and the sky spits something that is more rain than snow. Still, the sun puts on a brave fight, breaking through the thin cloud and casting a pale glow over the Murray River Valley.

HD Mining General Manager Lingyun Zuo points past the Green  concrete towers of Quintette to where a rainbow has formed. He says something in Mandarin, which Michael Li, Project Manager  for HD Mining translates. “That’s right over our mine site,” says Li. “The rainbow is a symbol of good luck. This is a good sign.”

The SUV we’re all crowded into—Zuo, Li, Zuo’s assistant, Peace River Regional District Representative Jerrilyn Schembri and myself—makes its way past a grader, then on to the mine site, found just past where the Murray Forest Service Road used to pass under the Quintette Conveyor belt, and up to a gate. “This is the Chinese side check-in,” says Li. “We’ll be going to the Western side check-in as well.”

We make our slow way to a second trailer, around the corner from the first, watching our footing on the icy ground. Here we are given a site orientation and safety briefing. While our guides are Chinese, most of the workers here are not, many of them contract workers with some of the companies doing work on-site, including LaPrairie Crane and Linkin Construction.

Leaving the trailer, we move up the hill to look at the settling pond. Here, earth moving equipment moves dirt from one area to another, building up the wall on the downhill side of the pond.

While this is the most noticeable feature of the mine site, it is not the most important, and after a few minutes we make our way back down the hill to an area where the clearing on the side of this ridge has butted against the slope and kept going, stripping off the top layer and exposing the bare rock underneath.

A series of curved, corrugated chunks of sheet metal sit next to this clearing, and near the back, a couple pieces have already been raised over what looks to be forming an access point to an underground parking lot. The concrete retaining walls are covered in tarps in an effort to keep the walls warm so they will cure faster.

A worker hauls rebar across the frozen ground at the proposed Murray River Mine.

The big difference, though, is that an underground parking lot goes, well, underground. Here, the newly-build concrete barriers lead down to a solid rock face, covered by a mesh to prevent falling rocks. Through Li, Zuo explains that the rock on the surface is very fragmented and fractures easily, so the mine will need to take special precautions through this section. “Once we hit solid rock, we can use raw headers,” says Zuo. How deep does the garbage on the surface run? “About 50 m,” says Zuo.

For an underground mine, though, there hasn’t been much progress getting underground. While the surface preparation is progressing nicely (“It should take another week or so,” says Zuo, “but with this weather it takes about twice as long to do anything.”), they have not made any progress underground. The portal we are standing in front of will lead 1.6 km in and down to the actual coal deposit, but right now, it just leads to the side of the hill and stops. Current depth: zero.

That, explains Zuo, is because the actual underground mining equipment hasn’t arrived. “It should arrive the latter half of this month,” he says, “but it might take longer.”

The equipment is arriving from China, he explains, and there is still some hoops they need to jump through before the equipment can be cleared. Once the equipment arrives, the rest of the personnel will arrive from China. “From there, it will be specialized underground work,” says Zuo. “It requires special skills.”

“Right now, the plan is to have the mine in operation in 2015,” says Zuo.

Ken Warwick, director for Linken Construction, one of the companies working on the site preparation says that, even though the surface preparation for the bulk sample will be done soon, preparation for the next phase could start as early as next February. “They’re very proactive in working ahead of their timeframes,” he says. “They’re great to work with, because they’re always looking ahead.”

Warwick says the problems that he faces with communication on this site is no worse than on any site. “I’ve worked down in Grande Cache, I’ve worked all over the place. Whenever you have a mix of nationalities, there’s going to be a little bit of a breakdown. But Michael is always with Mr. Zuo, Richard and Weebo speak enough English that we can get by. As far as problems go understanding and working with them? It’s minimal. They’re an incredible people to work with. My son is teaching Richard [An HD Employee] English.”

Warwick says that people who work on industrial sites understand what happens on an industrial site, no matter what language they speak. “I have more trouble with people on a job site that come from an office background, who come here and don’t understand the procedures. I don’t get that with the Chinese. They know there’s equipment moving and you have to be aware of what’s happening on site. It’s all good. The office people understand what has to be done, but they don’t understand how to do it. That’s the difference.”

Warwick has no problems with the mine being staffed by foreign workers. He says that Canada is a land built by people who came from elsewhere. “Everybody had to overcome some kind of hurdle. The little communications hurdles that we have to overcome on a day-to-day basis out here? They’re minor.”

Warwick says that he reads the papers and listens to the news, and what he sees and hears doesn’t reflect the reality of what is actually happening on site. “Some of the stuff that’s being portrayed in the papers is false. They’re trying to put doubt into people’s minds.

“Take a look at what they’re going to bring into the community. I see it already. When that bulk sample comes out, there’s all the surface prep that needs to get ready. The wash plant. The rail line. All that stuff has to be built yet. There’s five years of construction to make the mine active. That’s a thousand jobs. That’s close to a couple million in retail revenue in Tumbler Ridge. You see the bigger picture. You have to look further down the road. The big story here is these guys are really great to work with, and this is going to be really big for Tumbler Ridge.”