Recent History – 2004-2006
By Gary Rusak — October 24, 2005
Black gold was on everyone’s mind at the Northeast British Columbia Community Coal Forum held in Tumbler Ridge last week. Charles Pritchard, of Belcourt-Saxon, took the opportunity to announce to the conference that two sites approximately 70 kilometres south of Tumbler Ridge were closer than ever to full production.
“It would be a 20 year project of about 8.7 million tonnes of metallurgical coal a year,” Pritchard said. “With the two projects, Bellcourt and Saxon, tentatively we are looking at feasibility for the end of next year 2006-2007, with production in late ’09 and 2010.”
The news could mean hundreds of jobs and renewed economic activity for the region. Although Pritchard said that the company will be establishing a camp at the site, he still expects surrounding areas including Dawson Creek and Tumbler Ridge to benefit from the activity.
It was appropriate that Pritchard’s announcement came moments before John Hogg of Western Canadian Coal addressed the conference on Thursday morning. Hogg said that the Peace River region should be preparing for a coal rush.
“Once it was gold that drew people,” he said. “Today that gold in many respects turned out to be coal, where there are still fortunes to be made.”
Hogg, who previously worked in Tumbler Ridge at the Quintette Mine, said that there are six or seven “major projects” in the area that have marked the rebirth of the coal industry. He added that although the “first wave” of the coal industry lasted just 20 years, the current wave, with proper planning, could be more sustainable.
“The world demand for metallurgical coal used in steel making is seemingly unquenchable and prices have rocketed to records never before seen,” he said. “A lot of what is going on today and the reasoning behind the new mines is really because of the expansion in China and India. We can create the jobs for the people in Tumbler Ridge and aboriginal groups and bring sustainability to an industry that has a real bright future.”
Hogg said that he recognized that there will be a “levelling off” of world coal prices, but that exponential growth in India and China should still sustain the industry.
“We are not planning expansion based on the current high prices,” he said. “But, the demand is going to be high for the foreseeable future.”
Pritchard reminded the conference that although there is positive momentum, it was still important to lobby government for infrastructural improvements to aid the industry.
“We are going to take a bite out of someone else’s sandwich and that is Australia’s,” he said. “So we are going to need improved railways, ports and we are going to have to fight for infrastructure so that we can compete. And I’m sure we can.”