Business

Northeast coal mine investment secures jobs for 'long term'

Geologists from the province and Anglo American standing on the future site of Roman Coal Mine in 2012, near the southern end of the nearby Trend Mine coal project. - Province of B.C.
Geologists from the province and Anglo American standing on the future site of Roman Coal Mine in 2012, near the southern end of the nearby Trend Mine coal project.
— image credit: Province of B.C.

Work is now starting on a major coal mine expansion near Tumbler Ridge, in B.C.'s northeast.

Anglo American Mining Group subsidiary Peace River Coal is investing $200 million to open the new Roman Mine adjacent to its existing Trend Mine.

The company promises to maintain 450 existing jobs and expects to create 100 new jobs in construction over the 16-year mine life. It was approved and permitted this month in an unusually quick turnaround time.

Anglo American aims to boost production of northeast metallurgical coal, used in steel making, from 1.5 to at least 2.5 million tonnes annually. The coking coal would be hauled by rail to Prince Rupert for export.

Provincial officials were on hand to count the project as a step toward Victoria's Jobs Plan goal of opening several new mines and adding thousands of jobs by 2015.

But Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett noted the project is also about protecting what now exists.

"If Roman wasn't going to get built, in four years we would lose 450 mining jobs in this area plus all the indirect benefits that come from this mine," he said.

Still, Bennett called Anglo American's decision a "great leap forward" because the firm has deeper pockets than more junior miners to ride out low commodity prices.

"This company is investing here in the northeast on the long term," Bennett said. "They're going to be here and operate even when the commodity coal price is not at the very top."

Anglo American is giving up tenure to 1,852 hectares of land to protect caribou habitat in what CEO Mark Cutifani called an unprecedented conservation step.

The firm is also contributing $2.5 million to the Peace Northern Caribou Plan and signing benefit agreements that will deliver jobs to local first nations.

The announcement came less than a month after a more disappointing decision three weeks ago by Teck Resources Ltd. to delay restarting its shuttered Quintette coal project, which is also near Tumbler Ridge, as a result of depressed metallurgical coal prices.

Bennett said he's not concerned.

"Teck has invested enormous money in Quintette and they're not going to walk away from that," he said. "They're just not ready to pull the trigger on it yet."

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