Mike O’Kane (middle) explains their water quality solutions to a member of the public at their open house last Thursday, August 1. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

North Coal presents water quality solutions to public

The mining company held an open house in Sparwood, August 1

A company preparing to build its first mine in the Elk Valley is aiming to do so in a progressive and innovative way.

North Coal Limited has proposed to build Michel Coal Mine, a metallurgical coal mine which would produce between 2.3 and 4 million tonnes of raw coal per year for up to 30 years.

The Michel project, located in the Elk Valley Coal Fields between two existing mines and adjacent Corbin Road, would include three open pits at Loop Ridge, Michel Head and Tent Mountain, totalling a disturbance of approximately 1900 hectares.

Total resource projection would amount to 142 million tonnes of raw steelmaking coal.

On August 1, North Coal hosted an open house in Sparwood for their proposed project.

Information poster boards and North Coal employees in the Geologists, Environmental and Engineering answered questions from the public at the Seniors Drop-In Centre.

Information included project key features, proposed project activities and schedule, water quality treatment methods, contributors to valued components, and in-depth explanations of valued components including air, water, land and people.

One of the groups presenting information was O’Kane Consultants, the group spearheading the project’s water quality treatment. The group has worked on several mine projects in Canada as well as New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and more.

Mike O’Kane has developed what he believes is a solution to the leeching of materials such as selenium and nitrate, into waterways. It’s a method that he says costs more to begin with, but plans for the end of the mine project, before they start. Over time, he said there will be less need for active water treatment. This method, he calls progressive reclamation.

O’Kane started the company about 20 years ago, but continues work as a Senior Technical Advisor.

“Mike is kind of a world leader in terms of creating rock structures, facilities, that are able to reduce any impact to the water or aquatic environment,” said North Coal President, John Pumphrey.

O’Kane Consultants proposes to build the mine facility in shorter lifts, from the bottom up. On the top of each of those layers of rock they will be creating a barrier to reduce airflow.

“Reducing the overall airflow capacity [means] there’s no introduction of additional oxygen,” said O’Kane. “We can create that suboxic conditions inside the facility, and as the water flows through it, it’ll be the right bio/geo-chemicial physical conditions to reduce the concentration of nitrates.”

In summary; strategically placing rock in order to create a natural filter that will prevent leeching.

Several mines around the world are starting to use this method to build their mines, but only a few in Canada have taken this on. The first time O’Kane tested this method was in Australia, and have done so since at several other sites down south, as well as in Africa, Indonesia, and northern Europe.

“It’s hard,” said O’Kane. “You’re asking somebody to spend more money now to manage a risk now, rather than later. And the reality is, you’re spending a bit more now to save a lot more later. But you’re also creating a system that you can manage much better.

“I think it’s coming, it’s going to start really happening,” he continued. “We need to manage how we build our mine rock stockpiles, much differently than we have in the past.

Pumphrey spoke to why they chose this method of development.

“If you’re not thinking about closure at the start, you’re going to run into operational challenges,” he said.

“Some of the key features, we’re building our structures from the bottom up,” he continued. “That allows for progressive reclamation. We get asked a question, ‘well when are you going to reclaim?’ And I say, well we’re actually going to be reclaiming within the first year. And we reclaim every year as we go. So when we close, the reclamation is almost all done.”

In addition to this advantage, Pumphrey explained that this method also helps with dust management and mitigation, as they won’t be dumping from high up structures, but rather building from the bottom up.

“We’re fortunate enough to have a blank canvas when we start, so that allows us to think outside the box, to do things differently, to be innovative,” said Pumphrey.

Pumphrey said that so far, the feedback has been positive. That being said, he explained that people in the surrounding communities are concerned about proper mining practices and ensuring that this area reflects ‘best in class’ for mining practices.

“We’ve put the environment at the very front end as a priority, and safety obviously as well, and all of our designs are put together so that we’re able to ensure the long-term productivity of that landscape,” he said.

“It has been very positive. Obviously the public brings concerns to the table, we listen and we meet regularly with the communities. The Ktunaxa are at the table with us, talking about those concerns. Traditional use; the Ktuxana are very interested in hunting, gathering, fishing, traditional uses of the landscape. And we’re ensuring that our closure, our reclamation plan, is reflecting their interests.”

Pumphrey explained that the reclamation and closure working group is entirely comprised of members of the each of the four Ktunaxa Nation communities, adding that they have plans to re-introduce native plants back into the land base so that it can be once again used for traditional purposes.

North Coal Ltd is currently working to obtain its environmental assessment certificate, which requires approval by the Environmental Assessment Office of British Columbia (EAO) before any work can be undertaken on the proposed project.

Part of the application requirements is the identification of Valued Components, which the EAO has received and invites the public to comment on.

There are 35 days for the submission of comments by the public, which began on July 25 and closes August 29, 2019.

The intent of seeking public comments, EAO explained, is to ensure that all potential effects – environmental, economic, social heritage and health, that might results from the proposed project, are identified for consideration.

A copy of the Valued Components Proposal and info regarding the environmental assessment process are available for viewing at the Sparwood Public Library, and North Coal’s offices in Sparwood at 652F Sparwood Drive.

The EAO accepts public comments online at Projects.eao.gov.bc.ca, and by mail addressing: (Teresa Morris, Project Assessment Director, Environmental Assessment Office, PO Box 9426 Stn Prov Govt, Victoria BC, V8W 9V1), or by fax at 250-387-2208.

Anyone unable to attend the open house on August 1 is invited to participate in two additional comment periods during the Application Review stage, the dates of which will be announced later.

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