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$668-million underground coal mine gets green light

Conditional environmental approval given for HD Mining International's Murray River Coal project in Tumbler Ridge.
murray river coal
A decline portal (above) was installed for use in the "bulk sampling" of coal at the Murray River project. B.C.'s Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Energy and Mines have issued a conditional environmental approval for a $668-million underground coal mine in Tumbler Ridge.

HD Mining International’s controversial Murray River coal mine, located about 12 kilometres south of Tumbler Ridge, received conditional environmental approval from the B.C. government Thursday. 


The mine would be one of the largest underground coal mines in Canada, and the first in the country to use the “longwall” mining method.  


This does not mean the project will go ahead. HD has not yet made a final investment decision on the mine, but said that could come in 2016. The company expects to wrap up it's "bulk sample" to be shipped to China for testing in June of that year. 


It comes at an estimated cost of $668-million with an expected 25-year operating life. If the project goes ahead, the company estimates it will create 780 jobs once operational - good news for a region that has been decimated by the downfall in coal mining over the last few years. 


If the mine goes ahead, it will produce 4.8 million tonnes of coal per year. 


Tumbler Ridge Mayor Don McPherson was happy to hear the news. 


We are happy to see HD pass the next step in bringing an exciting new mining technology to B.C. and what it will mean for our community in need of more economic activity,” he said.


Environment Minister Mary Polak and Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett issued the environmental assessment (EA) certificate with 24 legally-enforceable conditions proposed by the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office (EAO). 


These include a requirement to hire an independent environmental monitor to determine whether HD is complying with these conditions, develop management plans for wildlife, fish and fish habitat, wetlands, air quality, noise, groundwater and surface water and a plan to mitigate impacts from invasive plants. 


Also required are the development of plans to mitigate social and economic effects, participation in the Murray River aquatic cumulative effects assessment, and a plan to avoid impacts on local First Nations Treaty 8 rights. 


The conditions “give (the ministers) the confidence to conclude that the project will be constructed, operated and decommissioned in a way that ensures that no significant adverse effects are likely to occur,” the government said in a news release.  


The management of the South Peace Northern Caribou herd, being lead by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, as well as a cumulative effects management plan for water quality being lead by the Ministry of the Environment, were key considerations in the decision to issue approval, the EAO says. 


The office determined that the main adverse effects would come from draining water from the underground mine during operations, post-closure flooding of the mine which could expose groundwater to the rock in the mine's tunnels, the collapsing of the mine's tunnels causing sinkholes on the surface, and the storage of waste rock from the mine. 


Effects on the groundwater, surrounding terrestrial environment and on adjacent tender holders in the forestry, oil and gas, guides and trapping, and wind energy sectors were also studied. 


The project will have an adverse effect on surface water, the EAO found. 


“The project would adversely impact surface water quantity and quality due to groundwater drawdown, surface subsidence, operational pumping of groundwater from the mine to the surface, and the development and use of surface infrastructure,” the EAO states. 


But, it concludes that these water effects would "not be significant" because the impact would be limited to the immediate area surrounding the mine and would be mitigated by proposed management plans. 


The EAO also concluded the mine is expected to result in operational and financial implications for companies operating on nearby land tenures.


To address potential impacts, a legally-binding condition was placed on the project requiring HD Mining to work with other companies that hold tenure in the area to reduce and mitigate any negative effects on their land. 


Most notably, Teck Coal Ltd. could face “significant risk and financial implications” through increased insurance premiums as a result of the project, the EAO says, because parts of the HD mine infrastructure would be located within the inundation zone of the Quintette coal mine plant tailings dam.  


The project will also overlap a portion of the tenured area for the Tumbler Ridge Wind Energy Project, which received an EA certificate in March 2012. 


Further permitting requirements will address project overlap for the Quintette Mine and the Tumbler Ridge Wind Energy project, the EAO notes. 


HD Mining estimates $7.9 billion of direct, indirect and induced economic benefit will be generated in the province as a result of the mine.  


The EAO says the project would also provide total tax revenue of about $1.2 billion from economic activity in B.C., and $2.1 billion for all of Canada. 


Government consluted with area First Nations to ensure that impacts to important species and traditional values were addressed through the assessment. 


In 2012, two B.C. labour unions took HD Mining to court over the proposed use of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) at the Murray River coal mine, claiming the company didn’t do enough to recruit Canadian workers, and as a result, unfairly excluded them in favour of TFWs. 


A federal court judge dismissed that argument in 2013.


Officials with the District of Tumbler Ridge were not immediately available for comment.