Controversial BC coal mine green-lighted with conditions

A proposed coal mine near Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia is one step closer after it received conditional approval from the BC government.

The Murray River coal mine and its Chinese owner, HD Mining International, faced intense public pressure in 2012 after it was revealed that the company would employ up to 500 temporary foreign workers (TFW) from China. Two labour unions took HD Mining to court over the use of TFWs, claiming foreign workers were favoured over Canadians. However a federal judge dismissed their argument in 2013.

In December 2014 a joint federal-provincial environmental review was launched, and on Thursday, Environment Minister Mary Polak and Bill Bennett, minister of mines and energy, issued an environmental assessment certificate with 24 conditions.

These include: hiring an independent environmental monitor to determine whether HD Mining is complying with the conditions in the environmental assessment certificate; developing a management plan to address impacts on wildlife, fish and fish habitat, wetlands, air quality, noise, groundwater and surface water and impacts from invasive plants; and working with local First Nations to avoid transgressing treaty rights. Federal approval is still required.

"The ministers have issued the certificate with legally-enforceable conditions that have given them 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 directly from the project," the government stated in a press release.

While the environmental certificate is a step forward, it is still uncertain whether the mine will go ahead. Alaska Highway News reported on Thursday that HD Mining has not yet made a final investment decision on the mine, though one is expected in 2016. Bulk samples will be shipped to China next June for testing.

If the company decides to move forward on Murray River, it will be one of the largest underground mines in Canada, using the longwall mining method.

The $668 million project would employ 764 miners, 494 of which would be foreign, in its first year of operation. The use of foreign workers would be reduced as Canadian miners are trained in longwall mining, Business in Vancouver reported. The mine would produce a maximum 4.8 million tonnes of clean coal a year and have a 25-year life.