US producer of metallurgical coal Walter Energy (NYSE:WLT) (TSX:WLT) said last week it is shutting down its two mines in Canada’s British Columbia, after the price of the steelmaking material sank to a six-year low.
The company said it would immediately close the Wolverine mine, near Tumbler Ridge, with about 415 employees. Its Brazion mine, closer to Chetwynd with about 280 employees, will be idled by July. Combined, the operations produced 3.6 million tonnes of metallurgical coal last year.
According to Resource Clips’ Greg Klein, the Walter Energy’s decision will affect workers and families in the same region where Vancouver-based HD Mining International wants to bring up to 480 Chinese workers for its proposed $300 million Murray River coal mine.
Despite being battled in provincial and federal courts by unions, the firm was allowed last year to go ahead with its plans of hiring foreigners.
Asked about this decision in light of Walter Energy’s coming layoffs, Shirley Bond, the province’s Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, told Resource Clips the government believes in “saying yes to economic development,” and that if the Murray River project becomes a fully developed mine, authorities plan to do everything they can to ensure British Columbians are trained to fill these jobs first.
The project, near Tumbler Ridge, is still in the early stages of seeking regulatory approval, but it currently has a permit for exploration and sampling work.
Coal is B.C.’s top export, and the province’s nine operating mines produced 31.4 million tonnes of it in 2013, representing more than half of total mining revenue in the province. Most of that — between 70% and 90%— is metallurgical coal. Thermal coal is mostly burned to produce electricity.