Coking Coal

Virtual Museum ID: 19-AME33

Specimen Summary

Massive Coal from Sparwood B.C.

Coal is a kind of sedimentary rock made almost entirely of carbon, formed as decaying plants are buried and gradually transformed to rock over time. Variable amounts of other elements, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sulphur, are also present in coal. At first, the decaying organic matter forms peat, then lignite and eventually, after millions of years, coal. If heating and compaction continue, or the coal is subjected to high temperatures and pressures, anthracite will ultimately form. Coal is usually found as long thin beds, called seams, which are either mined underground or in large open pits.

This sample is from the Elk Valley in southeastern BC, an area known for its extensive coal mining history. Elk Valley coal is very pure, which means it has a high carbon content and burns at a high temperature. This “coking coal”, also known as metallurgical coal or steelmaking coal, is used to smelt iron and other metals to make high quality steel.

In the Elk Valley, coal is mainly mined from open pits. Once mined, the coal is cleaned and dried before being stored and eventually transported by rail to Vancouver for shipping all over the world.

Coal mining began in the Elk Valley in the late 1800s, when William Fernie opened the first coal mine in 1897. Initially, he brought miners in from across the country in Cape Breton, another one of Canada’s major coal mining areas. Coal had been reported as early as the 1840s, first by Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet, a Belgian Jesuit missionary who worked with the K’tunaxa First Nation along the Elk River. Later, in 1873, explorer Michael Phillips travelled through the region and sent samples of coal back east to one of Canada’s most famous geologists, George M. Dawson, who visited the area soon after. By the early 1900s, several mines were open and small towns were being settled and expanded.

The main communities in the area today are Fernie, Elkford and Sparwood. But many more towns have come and gone since the coal mines first opened. Sparwood, where this sample was collected near, was once just a small railroad stop. A small community grew there in the early 1900s, at the same time that the nearby villages of Michel and Natal were also established. All three communities flourished, but because they were so close to the coal mines, Michel and Natal were often affected by coal dust. In 1966, the government-funded Urban Renewal and Land Assembly program relocated people from the two villages to Sparwood. Very little remains of the other villages, which were largely torn down, but Sparwood remains a thriving mining town today.

This sample comes from the Greenhills mine. We know this because the sample was donated by Kaiser Resources Ltd, who operated the mine in the 1960s and 70s. At the time a large portion of the coal was sold to Japan for the steelmaking industry there. In the early 1980s, Kaiser became Westar Mining, but that company went bankrupt in 1991. Since the early 1990s, Teck Resources Ltd has acquired several major Elk Valley mines that are still active today: Greenhills, Fording River, Elkview, Coal Mountain and Line Creek. In 2016, the mines produced a total of around 27.6 million tonnes of steelmaking coal, supplying countries around the world.

Specimen Data


The information listed below relates to the current holding location or collection that the sample is from, and whether the item is viewable at that location or is part of a private collection. Coordinates are given as guides, and we remind you that collecting specimens from these locations is not allowed. Caution is advised visiting such sites and Below BC assumes no responsibility for any injuries or trespassing charges that may occur as a result of the viewer entering these sites.

Collection Details

Original Collection:

Association for Mineral Exploration (AME)

Sub Collection:


Collection ID:


Virtual Museum ID:



Date Added to VM:


Location Information

Sample Origin:

Sparwood, BC

Specific Site:

Kaiser Resources Ltd.

UTM Easting:


UTM Northing:



11 (NAD 83)

Coordinate Accuracy:


Specimen Details

VM Category:


Primary Features:

Coking Coal

Primary Mineral Formula:


Primary Category:


Secondary Features:

Advanced Geological Information


The following section provides geological data relating to the specimen or the site it was collected from, when available. Information has been obtained from various sources including private and government datasets but may not be up to date. Any geological time periods or ages listed often relate to the primary geology of the area, and may not be the actual date of an event such as mineral formation.

Geological Formation:

Mist Mountain

Geological Period:

Jurassic to Cretaceous

Stratigraphic Age:

Geological Belt:


Geological Terrane:

Ancestral North America

Minfile ID:


Site Details:

Approximately 14 mineable seams occur in sandstones, siltstones and shales of the Jurassic-Cretaceous Mist Mountain Formation (Kootenay Group) (655 metres) in the Harmer Ridge area. Seam 10 (average thickness 15 metres), seam 6 (average thickness 5 metres) and seam 5 (average thickness 2 metres) were being mined by open pit methods in 1978. Ash content in the raw coal varies from 15 to 17 per cent and kilojoules/kilograms are greater than 27,640. The coal cleaned at 1.50 specific gravity contains 19 to 22 per cent volatile matter, 9.5 to 10.0 per cent ash, less than 0.5 per cent sulphur and kilojoules/kilograms values of 32,560. Coal rank is medium to high volatile bituminous.

The Harmer mines are located on the east limb of the north trending, south plunging Sparwood syncline. Strata are cut by several roughly north trending, west dipping thrust faults and a lesser number of normal faults (both west and east dipping).

The Harmer Knob East, Harmer 11 and the Harmer Ridge open pit mine are the main mines in the Harmer area.

The general Westar Balmer area also includes the Baldy Complex (082GNE016), Natal Ridge (082GNE013), J-Area (082GNE014) and Harmer Ridge (082GNE023), Michel Creek (082GNE012) and Balmer (082GNE015). See Michel Creek for early production.

At the Elkview mine, Teck Corporation has submitted a new mine plan encompassing Natal Ridge (082GNE013) for government approval. The plan will increase production from approximately 2.8 million tonnes per year to 5 million tonnes per year over a period of five to six years. In 1995, exploration was mainly in active pits and consisted of 77 drillholes totalling approximately 10,000 metres (Information Circular 1996-1, page 9).

Coal reserves are 138.4 million tonnes (Teck Corporation 1996 Annual Report, page 25). The mine is operated by Elkview Coal Corp. Reserves at January 1, 2000 were 129.7 million tonnes (Information Circular 2001-1, page 6).

Reserves at December 31, 2001 were 167.9 million tonnes proven and 92.2 million tonnes probable, totalling 260.1 million tonnes. Resources were 20.5 million tonnes measured (Teck Cominco Limited, Annual Report 2001).

As of December 31, 2009 combined proven and probable reserves were 231.7 million tonnes (Exploration and Mining in BC 2010, p.106).

Teck has a 95 per cent partnership interest in Elkview. The other 5 percent is indirectly held equally by Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corporation (2.5 per cent) and POSCO (2.5 per cent).

As of 2015, Elkview Operations produces mid-volatile hard coking coal mainly from the Baldy Ridge BR1 and Natal PH1 pits. Expansion at Baldy Ridge BR1 was approved in 2012, and expansion at Natal PH2 was approved in 2013. Development for these areas is underway along with baseline environmental work. The Baldy Ridge Extension project entered pre-application of Environmental Assessment in June 2014. This extension includes the expansion of the current pit boundary, mining the BR3, BR4, BR6, and BR7 pits, expansion of the Adit Ridge AR1, and further expansion at the Natal Ridge NR2 pit. The Baldy Ridge Extension project is expected to maintain production at 6.8 million tonnes per year (Information Circular 2016-2).

At the 2015 production rate of approximately 6.3 million tonnes per year, the estimate mine life at Elkview is 31 years.

As of 2015, Proven and Probable Reserves at Elkview include 215.2 million tonnes of hard coking coal. Measured and Indicated Resources are 705.3 million tonnes with an additional Inferred Resource of 176.2 million tonnes (Information Circular 2016-2).

As of December 2016, Proven and Probable Reserves at Elkview include 265.9 million tonnes of metallurgical coal. Resources include 432.5 million tonnes (Measured), 157.5 million tonnes (Indicated), and 246 million tonnes (Inferred) of metallurgical coal (2016 Teck Annual Information Form,

Additional Images