Hillsborough Resources wants to look for more coal and that’s causing concern for some residents living along the Oyster River watershed.
“The area where the test sites are proposed is uphill from the Oyster River and adjacent to Woodhus Creek which flows into the Oyster,” wrote Father Charles Brandt in a letter to the senior inspector of mines. “There is a great deal of water flowing downhill from this area into the Oyster River and private wells through visible streams and underground sources.”
The form letter is being signed and circulated by others who believe Hillsborough intends to begin test drilling this summer.
But that’s not the case, said Gary Gould, vice-president of Hillsborough which operates the Quinsam Coal mine located approximately 20 kilometres west of Campbell River.
“We still need to consult with local communities and First Nations,” Gould said Thursday. “It would be a phased exploration and next summer would be the earliest time we would begin.”
For now, Hillsborough has filed a “notice of work” application with the provincial mining ministry and expects to receive a permit to conduct test drilling in the two areas, located 5-8 kilometres southeast of the current mine site.
Gould said the initial phase would be five to six drill holes, along and nearby existing logging roads. When the tests are concluded, the holes are filled with concrete and the area is reclaimed.
“We regard it as zero impact,” said Gould.
Hillsborough will be looking for high-quality thermal coal. It will conduct a geo-chemical assessment of the rock and coal, and will monitor water run-off and quality.
Residents living along the Oyster River watershed, and who rely on well water, are concerned because the test areas are adjacent to the same areas where coal tests were conducted in the 1980s.
According to the letter from Brandt, “In 1985, Nuspar Resources application to mine this same area was refused after a test pit showed unacceptable levels of acid runoff.”
The octogenarian has been a tireless supporter for sound environmental management of the Oyster and Tsolum river systems. In his letter, he also pointed out that in June 2013, the Comox Valley Regional District wrote to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas requesting that no coal licences be granted.
He added that water quality from the confluence of the Oyster River and Woodhus Creek – tested this past April for pH and metal levels – was better than drinking water standards.
“It is gratifying to know that after years of hard work by individuals, organizations and the government, this river and creek are so healthy,” wrote Brandt. “The numbers of salmon spawning last August and September were living proof that this is so. Must we consider putting it all into jeopardy again when we already know what happened in the past?”
However, Gould said the test areas, while close by to the Nuspar drill areas, are different and may be separated by a fault line.
“We need to determine if this is worthwhile to do,” he said.
Coal prices stagnant
Low prices and weak demand for thermal coal led to the second round of layoffs at the Quinsam Mine this year.
Gould said the current production is for 150,000 tonnes this year, just one-third of what the mine was producing three years ago.
“We really hope that prices pick up,” he said.