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Bighorn readies for expansion

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Masha Scheele

A little more than a month after shipping its first coal from Phase 1 of the Vista mine, Bighorn Mining already has its sights set on Phase II.

Open houses held by Bighorn on June 24 and 26 in Hinton were part of the regulatory process permitting the Vista Mine Phase II Expansion to move forward. The open houses saw plenty of residents coming for an update or to get questions answered. 

“The goal of the open house was for our local stakeholders to learn more about our current operation in Phase I and explain the expansion to the west of the current operation,” said Bighorn president D.L. Lobb, who was at the open houses.  

“We want to solicit input from the local community and ensure that we include any suggestions in our permit application. We also want to let the local community know more about our commitment to be a socially responsible corporate partner with the local Hinton area.”

The open house showed that Coalspur Mines Limited, the entity that holds all regulatory approvals, stakeholder agreements and assets for the Vista Mine, has completed Phase I development in record time of less than 24 months and is now a commercial operation. 

The first shipment of thermal coal from the Vista Mine departed on May 11, destined for Ridley Terminal at Prince Rupert, BC. Each train shipped from the loadout facility in Hinton averages around 19,000 metric tons, and as of the end of June, the company has loaded one sea vessel that held 155,000 metric tons of coal destined for coal markets in Asia, said Lobb.

Phase II will double the output of clean coal annually, by six to seven million metric tons, but currently the project is awaiting approval. Infrastructure already commissioned as part of the Phase I development will be utilized for Phase II and additional equipment needed to increase production will require from 200 to 250 new employees.

“We believe that the Phase II extension of the Vista Mine can begin in late 2020 or early 2021. This is dependent on several factors, including but not limited to: the market conditions in Asia, the current consultation process, permit amendment review process, and equipment availability,” stated Lobb.

In order to gain approval for the mine expansion, there are two regulatory processes Coalspur must go through involving the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), and the First Nations Consultation (FNC).

The AER process is led by Coalspur’s development of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which includes developing a Terms of Reference, and performing studies and reports. The results were used to build the environmental protection systems and pollution control measures to minimize the impact of the development on the environment, which was displayed and presented at the open house.

Currently, Coalspur is in the public consultation process where they seek feedback from landowners, trappers, communities, stakeholders, and indigenous groups on the reports and plans, thus the open houses.

Issues raised in the Terms of Reference include the use and management of water and groundwater, soil conservation and land reclamation, fish and wildlife protection, and effective habitat reclamation, air quality, noise, dust, and traffic, minimizing impacts to the Town of Hinton and recreational users in the region, and loss of stakeholder and First Nations’ access to areas being mined.

Coalspur plans to submit the required report under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act to the AER at the beginning of 2020, according to information presented at the open house.