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TUMBLER RIDGE, B.C – Inside the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery in Tumbler Ridge, B.C., a set of two large doors symbolize past pain and future optimism for the coal industry in northeastern British Columbia and the region’s ties to Asia.
After years in storage, the doors finally went on display this past summer, with the entrance handles together forming the Quintette coal project’s logo. The Quintette mine opened in 1982 and supplied Japanese steel mills, but it closed in 2000 amid low coal prices.
The local economy seemed so depressed that the mine’s owner, Vancouver-based Teck Resources Ltd., donated the doors for museum purposes because the company’s executives thought the closing would be permanent and no longer needed for the glass office building on Quintette’s sprawling site near Tumbler Ridge.
“These doors originally were worth roughly $100,000 and they are quite heavy,” said Richard McCrea, curator at the Peace Region Paleontology Research Centre, which houses the gallery. He marvels at the thick aluminum doors, featuring a pewter exterior with artwork that depicts trucks at an open-pit mine in British Columbia and blast furnaces used for steel making in Asia.
Local leaders admit the historic exhibit is a painful reminder of dashed dreams in the past, but they quickly add that they see hope for the future and a fresh opportunity to restart Quintette and increase coal exports to Asia from nearby mines.
While the coal market has been in a slump for the past couple of years, prices are still much healthier than a decade ago. Vancouver-based Teck believes the economics might make sense to breathe new life into the old Quintette project and create 2,000 construction jobs and 500 full-time mining jobs.
But first, the company is waiting for prices to strengthen for metallurgical (or coking) coal – used in the production of steel. There is excitement in Tumbler Ridge over the prospect that Teck could revive Quintette through an $860-million mining project, located about 700 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.
“We are continuing to proceed with detailed engineering work at the Quintette project so that if market conditions are favourable, we will be in a position in early 2014 to decide to proceed with the reopening, which could result in commercial production in mid-2015,” Teck spokesman Chris Stannell said. A subsidiary of China Investment Corp. has held a 17-per-cent stake in Teck since 2009.
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