Explosion knocks out drying complex at Teck coal mine, raising safety concerns

Explosion knocks out drying complex at Teck coal mine, raising safety concerns

VANCOUVER — The union at a Teck Resources Ltd. coal mine near Sparwood, B.C., says it’s concerned about worker safety following an explosion that knocked out the mine’s coal drying complex last week.

Alex Hanson, president of United Steelworkers Local 9346, says someone could have been killed in the incident at the Elkview mine that workers report sent a fireball shooting through vents in the sides and roof of the building.

He says there were two smaller but similar events last year in the complex where coal is dried using a natural gas heating system before being loaded on railcars to go to market.

In a statement Friday, Vancouver-based Teck reported a “significant pressure event” in the dryer last Wednesday, adding it was investigating how much damage was done and the impact on production. It said no injuries or environmental harm resulted.

Teck spokesman Chris Stannell said in an email on Monday Elkview is operating at a reduced production rate but wouldn’t give numbers and had no update on when full output will be restored. He said “nothing is more important” to Teck than worker safety.

CIBC World Markets analyst Oscar Cabrera estimates in a report the Elkview incident could cut Teck’s metallurgical coal production this year by 13 per cent to about 23.7 million tonnes, while mining and logistics costs will likely rise by about $1 per tonne and capital spending might increase by $100 million.

Hanson says Teck is continuing to mine and clean coal at the facility, but the dryer is offline and it’s unclear when or if the mine will be able to resume shipments.

He says about 870 union members work at the mine and there are about 200 non-union workers.

(Companies in this story: TSX:TCK.B)

The Canadian Press

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