Explosion shuts down B.C. coal mine indefinitely

Teck Resources Ltd. says an explosion in a coal dryer at its Greenhills coal mine in British Columbia will "certainly" impact coal production there, but it's too early to tell how long a shutdown will last.
Teck's Greenhills coal mine near Elkford, B.C., is seen after an explosion on Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Company spokesman Greg Waller said Tuesday it will take several days to assess the extent of the damage and how it will affect production.

"We do have some options we can look at to mitigate the loss of coal production," he said in an interview.

The explosion occurred in an industrial area about eight kilometres from the town of Elkford, B.C., around 3:15 p.m. Monday, he said. There is no indication yet what caused the explosion, Waller added.

Damage to the dryer building is extensive.

A protective layer of cladding on the six-storey dryer unit has been blown from the walls, but the damage did not extend to any other parts of the mine, Waller said.

All seven employees at the dryer have been accounted for and are safe.

Four employees were treated for minor smoke inhalation.

"They were back in the plant site that evening to help with the investigation," Waller said.

Firefighters contained a brush fire in the area, sparked by material that blew through the air after the explosion, and there is little risk it will extend beyond the area.

Teck (TSX:TCK.B) has an 80 per cent interest in the Greenhills open pit mine, which plans to produce 4.3 million tonnes of metallurgical coal this year, with Teck's share at 3.4 million tonnes.

Greenhills is located in the Elk River coalfield in southeastern B.C. and is also 20 per cent owned by Pohang Steel Canada Ltd, a subsidiary of Pohang Iron and Steel Co Ltd of South Korea.

The company's stock closed down more than five per cent or $1.91 at $31.77 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Tuesday.

Waller said the dip in Teck's stock price is likely related to a plunge in the entire mining sector Tuesday, rather than the explosion and investor worry about halted coal production from Greenhills.

Overall, mining stocks were weaker on Tuesday after the U.S. Conference Board revealed that a calculation error overstated economic growth in China for April.

The correct number showed that the gauge of future economic growth was up only 0.3 per cent, rather than the 1.7 per cent it had initially stated.

China's demand for minerals and energy has provided support for Canada's resource-heavy stock markets, and the revised number delivered a dose of pessimism to investors.

Teck, with 9,000 employees, is Canada's largest publicly traded metals miner, with major zinc, copper and steelmaking coal operations. The company is a big exporter to Asia of coal used in steel industry blast furnaces.

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