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Penggui Yan, the chair of HD Mining International Ltd., is photographed during an interview at the HD Mining offices in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday, February 4, 2013.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

A dispute over Chinese miners at a B.C. coal mine has taken another twist, with labour groups alleging that HD Mining doesn't plan to use the longwall mining method for the test phase of its Murray River project.

The longwall mining method – and the skills it is said to require – are central to HD Mining's claims that it will need to hire foreign workers for its project.

Currently, there are no mines in Canada that use the longwall method, in which coal is mechanically "sheared" from walls by equipment mounted on mechanical ceiling supports.

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But documents obtained by unions that have filed a court challenge over the process that approved foreign workers for the project refer to a bulk sampling program that would be carried out with a "well-proven underground method (room and pillar)."

"Mining will be by the room and pillar method," states one document, a letter dated June 30, 2011, and filed as part of a notice-of-work application for the Murray River project.

The documents cast more doubt as to why permits were issued for about 200 temporary foreign workers at the project, says Brian Cochrane, spokesman for one of the labour groups that has challenged the process in court.

"HD Mining's own application to the B.C. government clearly shows that longwall mining was not even contemplated for this coal mine development project – yet HD Mining's federal Temporary Foreign Workers' permit says it needs coal miners with longwall mining experience," Mr. Cochrane, business manager for Local 115 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, said Monday in a statement.

HD Mining, however, says the documents obtained by the unions are outdated and don't reflect the company's current plans, which involve using the longwall method for bulk sampling and – if the $300-million mine is built – eventual operations.

"The affidavit alleges that we are not using longwall mining – but the affidavit includes an attachment of a notice of work application that was done back in July of 2011 by Canadian Dehua," HD Mining spokeswoman Jody Shimkus said on Monday.

Canadian Dehua is an HD Mining shareholder.

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"Originally the bulk sample was seen as a separate and distinct piece that would be done separately from the full mine development," Ms. Shimkus said, adding that those plans changed after HD Mining chairman Penggui Yan got involved.

"When Mr. Yan took over the company, because he has so much experience in longwall mining, he made the decision to use a more continuous approach," she said.

Penggui Yan, a former official with the Chinese government as well as a former manager with state-owned mining company Shenhua Group, said in a recent interview that he first learned of the Murray River project in 2010, when he was approached by Canadian Dehua.

Mr. Yan is now chairman of both HD Mining and its controlling shareholder, China-based Huiyong Holdings.

HD Mining obtained approvals last year to bring up to 201 foreign workers to B.C. for its bulk sample program. B.C. locals of the IUOE and the Construction and Specialized Workers' Union have applied for a judicial review of the workers' permits. That court action remains under way.

B.C. Jobs Minister Pat Bell has recently said that British Columbians have lost confidence in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and that he supports a federal review of the program.

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