Encouraged by its early success in reopening two British Columbia metallurgical/PCI coal mines acquired from bankrupt Walter Canada last year, Conuma Coal Resources Ltd. is preparing to restart a third mine, Willow Creek, in July, a move that could boost the company’s 2017 output to approximately 4 million tons in the western Canadian province.
Conuma, a subsidiary of West Virginia-based ERP Compliant Fuels, resumed surface mining at the Brule mine in the Tumbler Ridge area of British Columbia soon after Brule, along with the Wolverine and Willow Creek surface mines, were acquired from Walter in September 2016.
Mark Bartkoski, Conuma’s president, said in February that the company is pleased with results so far from Brule and Wolverine, which also resumed producing coal late last year. In particular, he praised the productivity at Brule and Wolverine. Brule and Wolverine are targeted to produce about 2.4 million and 1.3 million tons of coal, respectively, in 2017.
Conuma always had planned to restart Willow Creek, which has higher production costs, after Brule and Wolverine were back in operation. If Willow Creek resumes production in July as planned, it most likely would turn out about 300,000 tons in the latter half of this year, on its way to an annual runrate of approximately 700,000 tons starting in 2018.
Reopening the three former Walter mines has led to a welcomed resurgence in the local economy. Conuma expects to have about 460 full-time employees by early May and almost 700 once Willow Creek is up and running at capacity.
Bartkoski said his company is not interested in reopening a mine for a short period of time, but is attempting to construct operations so they can withstand the traditional up-and-down nature of coal markets without having to lay off employees.
The company is shipping coal through the Ridley Terminal in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, to Asian markets.