By: Greg Amos, Editor
- Six months from green light
- Learning through experience
- Housing a workforce
If all goes as planned, Teck’s Quintette mine is about six months away from approval, and a year and a half from re-opening and production.
Mothballed in 2000, the mine and plant still boasts “world-class facilities,” Teck senior vice president of coal Ian Kilgour explained to the public at the opening of Teck’s town office on April 18.
Two days later, Teck’s Mines Act permit amendment was submitted to the province, triggering a review process that is hoped to last no longer than six-months. That should coincide with the completion of a mine feasibility study that sets the table for 12 years of metallurgical coal production, and a workforce of nearly 500 people.
So far, close to 40 employees have been hired. The majority of the hiring will commence once the permit amendment is approved, Kilgour told the Ridge Sentinel.
“We’re looking to get board approval at same time we have approval from the regulators,” he said. Production could begin within a year of the board vote – by October 2013 – and would start at the Window Pit before moving on to the Windy Pit.
Extra drilling over the last two years resulted in new coal seam information that’s meant a recent revision of the mine plan, and consequent changes to pit outlines, dump locations, and the water management plan – all of which must be in place before submitting a permit application, explained Kilgour.
As far as details around the mine’s organization, structure and equipment fleet, “we’re 90 per cent there,” said Kilgour.
While the mine re-opening is not required to undergo a new environmental assessment (EA) process, “this Mines Act permit amendment is, to all intents and purposes, an environmental assessment,” explained Kilgour. “It contains all the elements of the EA we’ve just done, for example, on our Line Creek mine (near Sparwood), such as environmental baseline studies and a socio-economic evaluation.”
The amended permit looks not only at mine impacts, but at cumulative effects from the multitude of mines expected in the region. Quintette’s water management plan, for example, concludes the Murray River is a large enough body of water to absorb runoff from several mines in the area, without impacting fish.
With respect to effects on woodland caribou, Kilgour explained Teck plans to have “a net positive impact on biodiversity.”
“We want to have the Quintette herd healthier when we finish than it is now,” he said, adding Teck recently sponsored a regional caribou conference at Moberly Lake. “We’ve been working with a number of groups to look at how we can do that.”
Kilgour said he’s aware of concerns that the lease could impact recreational use of the Boulder Gardens hiking area, which is found outside of Quintette’s mining area, on the south side of Mt. Babcock.
“As far as possible, we are disposed to maintain public access to areas of the lease which are of public interest, while ensuring there’s going to be no risk to anyone from these activities,” he said.
Learning through experience
Much of the operational planning for Quintette is a result of lessons learned through Teck’s southeast B.C. (Elk Valley) operations, where experience shows that the PH 4100 XPC electric shovel will be the right machine for the job.
“We’re starting the mine with equipment that works, going in with the largest units that they know will work efficiently,” said Kilgour. “In many ways we’re bringing the best of what we’ve learned from those operations. We’re really happy with the fleet that we’ve got coming.”
The mine will also use the hydraulic PC5500 Komatsu shovel, a more flexible shovel that is good for opening up new mining areas, explained Kilgour.
To move the coal, Komatsu 930E haul trucks will be used. The vehicles are about twice the size of a Caterpillar 777 haul truck, and have a payload capacity of nearly 300 metric tonnes. The machines have been found to work well in the Elk Valley, said Kilgour. Dozers and backhoes used on the site will mainly be Caterpillar products.
The extra large haul trucks mean an extra large truck shop (with four bays) is being built at the maintenance shop.
The plant itself has a capacity for six million tonnes – whether it reaches that level of production will depend on how much the need for steel in developing countries drives demand for metallurgical coal, said Kilgour.
Regarding concerns over coal dust being brought into town from the mine’s light vehicle fleet, Kilgour said he’s not aware of any plans for a drive-through car wash station, but said it’s something Teck will consider.
Housing a workforce
While a lot of thought has gone into issues around worker housing and shift schedules, Kilgour said Teck is still working out a final plan.
“Shifts affect people’s lifestyle and mine efficiency – we’re discussing that now with the Steelworkers, and we’re working together to develop a collective agreement,” he said. “People in Tumbler Ridge seem to like the six on – six off, or seven on – seven off schedule. Most people in the Elk Valley are four on – four off.”
On housing , Teck is now evaluating the results of the second of two housing studies done last year. The results so far “show that we need to provide a range of housing options for people, said Kilgour.
Company housing “is really not the modern style,” and Teck would prefer to have employees invest in their own housing, said Kilgour.
“People tend to look after their own house better than other people’s houses, which tends to increase the commitment of people to a community,” he said. “We’ll be doing what we can to encourage that.”
“We’ll look at incentives for employees to buy their own houses,” he said, noting programs around subsidies, loans, and other options are still on the table.
So far, Teck employees have purchased some houses, apartments and lots for development in Tumbler Ridge, and Teck is open to working with the district on acquiring Crown land, he said.
“If the support of industry is advantageous to getting those things moving, it’s something we’ll consider,” he said. But there are urban centres located close enough to Tumbler Ridge that workers can commute, making the longer shift schedules a possibility, he said.
Former Quintette employees on hand at the April 18 opening of the town office say they’re optimistic that the mine will make the right decisions for the re-opening.
“It’s great to have another viable company coming into town,” said David Cooksley, who worked at the original Quintette mine. “It was a well organized company and union – you knew what you were doing usually every time you came into work.”
Some Quintette workers went to Fort McMurray or southeastern B.C. coal projects when the mine closed, and Cooksley said he expects many of them will return to Tumbler Ridge for the chance to work at the mine again.
Teck has plans to launch a question and answer website to assist the public with understanding the project as it progresses towards re-opening.