B.C. coal mine to restart, hiring back 200+ workers

It will be a happy new year for more than 200 unemployed coal miners in the Peace River region when the new owners of the Wolverine mine near Tumbler Ridge start producing steelmaking coal again January 2, 2017.

Conuma Coal Resources Ltd., which restarted the Brule mine near Chetwynd in September 2016, has begun hiring back miners in anticipation of the restart.

It is one of three idled steelmaking coalmines that Conuma bought last year from Walter Energy, which went bankrupt as a result of a prolonged coal price crash.

Last fall, Conuma put 170 coal miners back to work at the Brule mine. The company is now busy hiring back another 220 miners at the Wolverine mine.

“Restarting the Wolverine Mine is tremendous news for families living in and around Tumbler Ridge,” Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said in a press release. “This mine will create approximately 220 new good-paying jobs in the region, on top of the 170 jobs created when Conuma Coal reopened Brule Mine in September. The restart of these two mines is a significant boost to the economy in the Peace Region.”

“The opening of the Wolverine Mine by Conuma Coal is the best Christmas present Tumbler Ridge could have asked for,” said Tumbler Ridge Mayor Don McPherson. “We have had a tough three years, and this will put people back to work and improve our economic outlook.”

Conuma Coal is hoping to restart the third mine it acquired – Willow Creek near Chetwynd – in the summer of 2017. When in full operation, the three mines would employ a total of 660 people.

A steep and prolonged drop in coking coal prices – from US$300 per tonne in 2011 to below US$80 per tonne in 2015 – bankrupted a number of American coal companies, including Walter Energy, and resulted in a number mine closures. Anglo American PLC also shuttered its metallurgical coal mine near Tumbler Ridge in 2014. The three former Walter Energy mines in Tumbler Ridge and Chetwynd were idled between 2014 and 2015.

In mid-August, the BC Supreme Court approved the bankruptcy sale of Walter Energy’s three B.C. mines to a new company headed by U.S. environmentalist Tom Clarke. Clarke has been behind a number of recent coal mine acquisitions in the U.S., where the mines are being restarted and production bundled with carbon offsets and reforestation.

Conuma is a Canadian company, but its owners also own West Virginia’s ERP Compliant Fuels, which has been buying up both thermal and steelmaking coal mines from bankrupt companies in the U.S.

Thermal coal is burned to generate power, and prices continue to be depressed, thanks to a phase out of coal power throughout North America. Steelmaking coal – also called coking or metallurgical coal – is not used to generate power, but it is a critical component for making steel.

Metallurgical coal is B.C.’s second most valuable export, next to lumber.

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