Slurry pipeline study for anthracite

Fortune Minerals has presented a summary of results from its preliminary economic assessment of the viability of transporting coal using a slurry pipeline from its proposed Mount Klappan anthracite coal mine in northwest British Columbia to the ports of Stewart and Prince Rupert. This preliminary scoping study, conducted by Marston Canada indicates that a slurry pipeline could materially reduce transportation costs to the ports as compared to the truck or rail transportation options evaluated in the company’s positive full feasibility study completed by Marston in 2005. According to the scoping study report, such a pipeline may reduce operating costs by as much as 34%. For example, the study estimates operating costs of C$23.89/t involving truck transportation to the port of Stewart compared with C$15.75/t using a slurry pipeline to the same destination. [dollars herein are US unless otherwise stated]

A slurry pipeline would also help mitigate the future impacts of increasing fuel and labour costs, and certain route options would reduce the environmental footprint of the proposed development by using existing transportation corridors. Finally, it is expected that using a buried slurry pipeline to transport coal products from Mount Klappan would also reduce environmental impacts of the project by eliminating the trucks that would have been used for coal haulage.

“Fortune continues its commitment to aggressively manage the costs and profitability of developing our huge Mount Klappan asset, at the same time we are determined to minimize the impact it has on our environment,” said Robin Goad, President and CEO of Fortune. “We are pleased to have this independent engineering review that gives us some options that may allow Fortune to meet all of these objectives.”

The scoping study included conceptual operating and capital cost estimates prepared for two production scenarios and evaluations of three route options to the ports of Stewart and Prince Rupert:

1) Slurry pipeline transport of 1.5 and 3 Mt/y west from Mount Klappan to Highway 37 and southwest along the existing highway to Stewart

2) Slurry pipeline transport of 3 Mt/y west to Highway 37 as above and then south along the highway and existing forestry roads to Highway 16 and west to Prince Rupert

3) Slurry pipeline transport of 3 Mt/y south from Mount Klappan along the existing BC Rail right-of-way to Minaret, west along the Stewart-Omenica Resource Road and then south along the Kispiox Road to Hazelton (320 km) for rail transport to Prince Rupert (200 km).

Based on the study’s positive findings, Fortune has commissioned Marston and Pipeline Systems Inc (PSI) to conduct a more detailed prefeasibility level economic assessment of pipeline transportation using the Stewart and Hazelton route options for more precise cost estimates for the ongoing mine planning and permitting activities. This new study is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2008. While the costs associated with Prince Rupert are generally higher than those involving Stewart, Prince Rupert already has an under-used worldclass handling facility specifically designed for coal. The slurry pipeline option being considered through Hazelton would allow the Company to use this handling facility and would also offer railway access to North American coal markets.

The preliminary scoping study was prepared assuming that the coal would be transported as a 50%-solids coal slurry in which 95% would be less than 0.6 mm and would be dewatered and pressed into pellets or briquettes at the pipeline terminus for handling and delivery to overseas steel customers. Marston is examining the building of a briquetting plant at the pipeline’s terminus capable of producing anthracite pellets for use in the global steel manufacturing industry and test work for the production of briquettes is in progress. Notably, low ash content briquettes of suitable size, strength and quality are likely to command premium prices on the international market and would also facilitate loading and handling at the railway, port and receiving steel plant.

In addition to the slurry pipeline assessment and the ongoing engineering and environmental studies, the company is conducting discussions with potential joint venture partners over the development of the Mount Klappan coal project. Notably, the price of coking coal, the best proxy for metallurgical anthracite pricing, is now being quoted on the spot market in the range of $180 to $190/t a 100% increase over the 2007 contract price. The price of ultra-low volatile PCI coal from anthracite for the steel industry is currently quoted at some $150/t and premium anthracite products used in metallurgical processing are being quoted in excess of $200/t. The 2005 Marston full feasibility study for Mount Klappan, which used a base case price of $100/t with sensitivities at higher and lower prices, had already shown attractive rates of return for several production rate and truck and rail transportation options.

The company is active in the environmental assessment process at Mount Klappan to develop an export metallurgical coal mine producing ultra-low volatile pulverized coal injection (PCI) products for the overseas steel industry. Rescan Tahltan Environmental Consultants (RTEC), Fortune’s environmental consultants for the project, are also continuing to conduct environmental work at the Mount Klappan site and are now also conducting studies in support of the pipeline route options. All-North Engineering is also completing the road engineering and an updated cost estimate for the proposed haul roads that would service either of the pipeline route options.

Fortune’s wholly-owned Mount Klappan anthracite coal project is located in northwest British Columbia and straddles the B.C. Railway right-of-way 150 km northeast of the port of Stewart and 330 km northeast of the port of Prince Rupert.