Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut June 25, 2012 - 1:53 pm

Test drilling for king coal to start 2013 in the High Arctic

“The fossil forest area, we will never touch that”

SPECIAL TO NUNATSIAQ NEWS
The Axel Heiberg fossil forest is home to one of the world’s most important and extensive collections of ancient stumps, leaves, cones and branches which have been carefully preserved, or “mummified” in peat-like soil for more than 50 million years. (FILE PHOTO)
The Axel Heiberg fossil forest is home to one of the world’s most important and extensive collections of ancient stumps, leaves, cones and branches which have been carefully preserved, or “mummified” in peat-like soil for more than 50 million years. (FILE PHOTO)

LISA GREGOIRE

Canada Coal Inc., which owns 75 coal exploration licences covering roughly 2.5 million acres of territory on Ellesmere and Axel Heiberg islands, began mapping and sampling some areas June 16 in preparation for exploratory drilling, expected to unfold in summer 2013.

But the company president, Braam Jonker, said he has no intention of developing areas on Axel Heiberg Island where scientists, for the past two decades, have studied and excavated a fossilized forest thought to be roughly 45 million years old.

“The fossil forest area, we will never touch that,” said Jonker, on the phone from Vancouver where Canada Coal’s head office is located.

“I’ve been mining for many years,” he added. “I’m a big supporter of responsible mining, doing it in such a way that impact on the environment is minimized.”

The Axel Heiberg fossil forest is home to one of the world’s most important and extensive collections of ancient stumps, leaves, cones and branches which have been carefully preserved, or “mummified” in peat-like soil for at least 45 million years.

It offers a rare glimpse into the earth’s prehistoric past when towering trees grew in the Arctic before dying back and getting buried under the soil of the island’s Geodetic Hills.

Nunavut environment minister, James Arreak, said in March 2012 that his government is hoping to formally protect the Axel Heiberg site within a territorial park tentatively called Napartulik, “where there are trees.”

But those efforts are still in preliminary stages.

Canada Coal also holds an exploratory licence adjacent to the Beaver Pond fossil forest near Strathcona Fiord on Ellesmere Island, another unique heritage site which contains not only ancient, mummified trees but fossils of now-extinct fish, frogs and mammals including three-toed horses and the ancestors of black bears.

That site, which dates to the Pliocene era, or roughly five million years ago, is currently the only one of its kind in the world’s Arctic regions.

“I’m not aware of that site,” Jonker said, when asked about Beaver Pond, “but I’m pretty sure the government would not allow it, and as an individual, I would not allow work there anyway.”

Jonker said that the company also plans to set aside land in southern Ellesmere that Grise Fiord residents use for hunting.

So where does Canada Coal plan to explore? Jonker said for the next five weeks the company is focusing attention on the western Fosheim Peninsula, about 36 kilometres east of Eureka and at the heart of the “Nunavut Coal Project.”

Initial sampling of that area in the 1980s suggests it contains about 22 billion tonnes of coal, “but the key is to find the right type of coal,” Jonker said.

Coal comes in many forms, he explained, from the least desirable lignite to the highly sought bituminous coal. Bituminous coal can contain metallurgical or “met” coal which is used in steel-making.

There is also something called thermal coal which can be used to produce electricity and heat.

Past testing of the 24 coal seams on the Fosheim Peninsula indicate that about half the deposit is lignite with the possibility of higher quality bituminous coal occurring at greater depths.

By the end of summer 2012, Canada Coal hopes to have completed all its preliminary mapping and surveying so that test drilling can begin in earnest next summer.

Jonker said even if a fraction of that massive deposit is “met” coal, it could still mean 250-500 million tonnes.

According to budget estimates contained in a September 2011 technical report prepared for Canada Coal, this year’s preliminary phase should cost roughly $3.7 million and next year’s exploratory drilling, another $9.9 million.

The coal is generally low in ash and sulphur content which should make it desirable to markets in Europe and Asia, Jonker said. A March 2012 story in Mining Weekly Online said there is currently a scarcity of met coal worldwide and that, “people are scouring the world for new deposits.”

“If I wasn’t confident about it, I wouldn’t be doing it. But it is exploration,” Jonker said about his current High Arctic program. “Sometimes it gives you a diamond and sometimes it gives you nothing.”

Canada Coal acquired the exploratory coal licenses from WestStar Resources Corp. in late 2010 and early 2011 by means of two wholly-owned subsidiaries: 5200 Nunavut Ltd. and Canada Sovereign Coal Corp.

You can download a description of the project here.

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