ERP Compliant Fuels, Conuma’s West Virginia-based parent company, bought the Wolverine, Brule and Willow Creek met coal surfaces last year from Walter Energy Canada Holdings, which idled the mines in 2014 because of a downturn in coal prices.
If Conuma restarts Willow Creek by mid-2017 as is hoped, the three mines should be producing at the rate of about 4 million mt/y. By April 1, Wolverine is expected to have 220 employees, increasing Conuma’s employment in the area to about 400, counting Brule. Walter Energy had about 700 employees before it closed the mines, less than four years after it acquired the three mines in 2010 for $3 billion.
The restart of Brule and Wolverine has provided a sorely needed economic shot in the arm for the Tumbler Ridge area that experienced an unemployment surge when the mines closed. Shirley Bond, British Columbia’s minister of jobs, tourism and skills training, said Wolverine’s restart was welcome news. “Supporting and growing our province’s mining sector is a key commitment of the British Columbia Jobs Plan,” she said. “This project not only creates 220 high-paying jobs, it also provides new opportunities for over 250 British Columbia businesses.”
Conuma President Mark Bartkowski said the mine’s reopening was made possible by “the progressive collaboration between the ministry, the previous owners, the courts, First Nations, local communities and a great group of employees.”
The company’s proposal to possibly restart Willow Creek in July is under review by the ministry, and a decision is expected soon.
According to Bartkowski, Brule’s coal is being sold to Asian markets for use in steel production. The coal is shipped through the Ridley Terminal in Prince Rupert.
Tom Clarke’s Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund established ERP in 2015 to acquire and operate coal properties with an environmental approach. In addition to Conuma and its three mines in British Columbia, ERP purchased several West Virginia mining assets from bankrupt Patriot Coal Co., including the Federal and Hobet complexes. Clarke is a self-styled environmentalist who owns a chain of nursing homes and heads the VCLF, a nonprofit group.