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View of the town of Tumbler Ridge, B.C.

Courtesy of Western Coal

A coal project shelved after B.C. introduced legislation that effectively nixed coal-fired electricity plants is back on the front burner, this time as a mine-only operation that does not include an electricity component.

The Echo Hill project, near Tumbler Ridge in northern B.C., would produce thermal coal for the Asian market, said Hillsborough Resources Ltd. vice-president Gary Gould. Thermal coal is used to generate electricity, while metallurgical coal is used in making steel. Both types are mined in B.C.

The company considered several factors – including mining methods, market conditions and the length of time it might take to get through the permitting process – in submitting its revised proposal, he said.

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"We have been taking a look at the project off and on for quite some time," Mr. Gould said. "We feel this is a good time to be submitting a project description."

That document, filed last week, is an early step in an environmental assessment process.

Previously, Hillsborough and a corporate partner had submitted a proposal to develop the deposit with a mine and an electric power plant. But the province torpedoed that concept in 2007 when it unveiled an energy plan that required all-new energy projects in the province to have zero net greenhouse-gas emissions.

The Echo Hill mine would involve primarily surface, rather than underground, operations, Mr. Gould said. Workers for the mine – about 120 of them, if the $35-million project goes ahead – are expected to be hired locally, he said.

Another coal project in the region, the proposed Murray River mine, has been under scrutiny for its plans to employ temporary foreign workers from China. The Murray River project would produce metallurgical coal from an underground operation using long-wall mining, a method that uses machines to mine long sections of a coal face.

Canada's two existing underground coal mines – including Quinsam Coal on Vancouver Island, which is operated by Hillsborough Resources – use a room-and-pillar method that creates a network of rooms in a coal seam.

HD Mining, the company that is developing the Murray River project, has said it needs to hire foreign workers because there are not enough trained, experienced Canadian workers to fill the jobs. The company has also said it intends to train local workers but that it needs workers who are familiar with long-wall equipment and techniques to get the project under way.

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Labour groups have disputed those claims. The federal government is investigating to see whether all the rules were followed in hiring temporary workers for the Murray River project. And this week, labour groups asked the Federal Court of Canada to overturn work permits issued for the foreign workers.

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