More than two long years after shutting down and less than two short weeks after its acquisition closed, northeastern British Columbia’s Brule coal mine is moving from care and maintenance to production. The province’s Ministry of Energy and Mines confirmed the restart on September 23.
Along with Wolverine and Willow Creek, Brule’s one of three regional coal assets picked up by privately owned Conuma Coal Resources from Walter Energy Canada, a holding company for U.S.-based Walter Energy Inc. The latter entity shut down the Peace River-region projects in April 2014, throwing 695 people out of work. Walter Energy Inc was one of a number of coal giants that filed for bankruptcy the following year.
Conuma will act as a contract miner for Walter until permits can be transferred, according to the province. The re-start should eventually restore about 170 jobs. Plans call for the mine to be “fully staffed and operating at full production levels by December 2016,” the ministry stated. “The company estimates it will produce two million tons of metallurgical coal annually from the Brule mine.”
The open pit deposit has “proven to yield a very strong and highly sought-after metallurgical-quality coal,” added Conuma president Mark Bartkoski. “The co-operation between the previous owners, the local communities, numerous First Nations groups, the ministry and Conuma was unprecedented and will quickly result in blessing numerous families with employment opportunities.”
The company also proposes to bring Wolverine back to life. Timing depends on Conuma’s “ability to complete the necessary work to satisfy all its permit requirements,” the province stated.
A new company led by experienced coal miners, Conuma benefits from Walter’s debt and coal’s resurgence, co-owner Ken McCoy told the Tumbler Ridge News. “When Walter bought this property, they bought it right at the very top of the market. They paid over $3 billion for it, and as soon as they bought it, it started going down, down, down. If you look at the graph, we bought it right at what we think is the bottom. Now the market has turned up. In the last two months, the price of this coal has gone up significantly, which justifies us to come in and open these coal mines up.”
Conuma is a member of the ERP Group of Companies built around West Virginia-based ERP Compliant Fuels, which bundles reforestation carbon credits with coal sales “to produce a ‘compliance instrument’ effectively reducing carbon dioxide emissions.” But Conuma has no carbon offset plans for the time being, McCoy told the Tumbler Ridge News.