Vista coal project is located near Hinton in Alberta, Canada. Image courtesy of Coalspur.
The Vista coal deposit is planned to be developed through open pit methods. Image courtesy of Coalspur.
Coalspur is currently carrying out detailed engineering for the Vista coal mine. Image courtesy of Coalspur.
Vista mine’s planned expansion will boost production by 4.2Mt of coal per annum. Credit: Mark Agnor via Shutterstock.
The Vista coal mine has an estimated life of 30 years. Image courtesy of Coalspur.

Coalspur’s Vista coal project is located near Hinton in Alberta, Canada. It is one of the largest undeveloped coal mines in North America. Spread over an area of 9,984ha, the project is estimated to have a mine life of 30 years.

In January 2012, Coalspur completed a bankable feasibility study (BFS) for the project. The BFS estimated the initial marketable reserves of the project to be 313Mt. The front-end engineering and design (FEED) of the project was completed in 2013. Investment in phase one of the project is estimated to be C$458m ($412m) while the phase two investment is estimated to be C$250m ($225m).

The mine is scheduled to be developed through open-pit methods in two phases. Production is ongoing at the mine and the second phase will increase production capacity from 10Mtpa to 15Mtpa upon completion.

The Alberta Energy Regulator granted approval for the project in February 2014 paving way for finalising the detailed regulatory permits and licences in 2014. The first shipment of coal from the mine was made in May 2019.

Bighorn Mining, an affiliate of Cutlass Colleries and Cline Group, is operating the Vista coal mine. Cline Group’s affiliate KC Euroholdings struck a deal to purchase Coalspur in February 2015.

Geology of the Rocky Mountain-based Vista coal deposit and reserves

The Vista coal deposit is part of the Rocky Mountain range. It includes sediments of the Upper Cretaceous-Tertiary Saunders Group which consists of the Brazeau, Coalspur and Paskapoo formations.

Coal deposits are concentrated in the Coalspur and Paskapoo formations. The Coalspur is a 600m-thick simple monocline formation of the Paleocene age. Economically feasible deposits are concentrated in the Paskapoo formation.

The measured and indicated reserves of the Vista coal mine are estimated at 1,030.9Mt grading at 52%. The inferred resources are estimated at 290.7mt grading at 22%.

Coalspur formation mineralisation consisting of six continuous coal zones

The Coalspur formation consists of six continuous coal zones – Val d’Or, Arbour, McLeod, McPherson, Silkstone and Mynheer. The majority of the mineable resources are concentrated in the Val d’Or, McLeod and McPherson zones.

The Val d’Or zone has an average thickness of 31.75m and includes seven correlatable sub-seam plies. The McLeod zone includes three correlatable plies with an average thickness of 4.65m. The McPherson zone has an average thickness of 6.98m and includes four piles.

Mining method and coal processing facility of Alberta’s Vista project

The Vista coal deposit includes 22km of gently dipping coal seams. This structure enables the use of truck and shovel mining methods to recover the ore. A clean coal strip ratio of 7:1 is expected during the first ten years and then 9.2:1 over the later life of the mine.

The ore processing facility includes a run-of-mine (ROM) coal handling area and coarse coal handling area. The coal handling area includes two dump ROM bins with a capacity of 800t of ROM coal, a 3,500t/h apron feeder and a low-speed twin-roll primary sizer with a capacity to handle sizes up to 1.2m x 1.2m x 2.0m. The ROM coal is crushed to a nominal size of 350mm and transferred to the coarse coal handling area.

The coarse coal handling area includes a secondary sizer which crushes the coal to a size of 125mm. The crushed coal is then sent to two tertiary sizers to further crush it to a size of 50mm. Crushed coal is then sent to the coal processing plant.

The coal processing plant has two modules with a capacity of 1,500t/h. Each module includes three cleaning circuits for nominal (-50mm+2mm), fine (-2mm+0.2mm) and ultrafine coal (-0.2mm).

The nominal circuit washes the coal in large diameter dense medium cyclones. Fine coal is washed using hindered bed separators and spirals while ultrafine coal is thickened in a processed fines thickener. Clean coal is processed by two thermal dryers to reduce the surface moisture before being transported to markets.

Transporting and handling coal produced at Canada’s Vista mine

The processed coal is stored in a 450m-long, 171m-wide clean coal storage and reclaim facility located near the coal preparation plant.

Coalspur signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Canadian National Railway (CNR) to develop a logistics supply chain for the mine. CNR’s main rail line runs eight kilometres north of the mine.

CNR and Coalspur built a 3,500Mt/h capacity rail load-out facility next to the mainline to transport coal to the Ridley Island Terminal. Clean coal is sent to the rail load-out facility through an overland conveyor and a load-out conveyor.

Coalspur signed a contract with Ridley Terminals for the allocation of 8.5Mtpa of port capacity for up to 21 years. The coal reaching the terminal is loaded onto cape size vessels for exportation.

Coalspur Vista coal mine phase II expansion project

The final terms of reference for environmental impact assessment report of the phase two project were issued in June 2019.

The Vista Coal Mine-Phase II project area is 3.5km east of Hinton in Yellowhead County.

Phase two will expand the phase one project towards the west to add 4.2Mt in annual production.

The open-pit surface coal mine (phase two) will target resources in the same Val d’Or, McLeod and McPherson seams as the existing mine.

The expansion of the project will take advantage of the existing infrastructure such as coal processing facilities, main access roads, equipment parking, and a coal loadout facility. The project proposes to create multiple settling basins will be created in mined out Val d’Or pits in the first phase for the disposal of tailings from the processing facility.

The coal obtained from the combined operation is then transported by train to ports on the west coast and shipped using ocean vessels to overseas markets.

The construction on Vista coal mine phase II expansion project will start in January 2022. The life of mine of the second phase is estimated to be ten years (2022-2032).

Contractors involved

Taggart was chosen as the preferred engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor for the project. The EPC contract is valued at $221m.

In June 2018, Coalspur mines submitted an application to the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) to provide a connection for the Vista coal mine facility. The application seeks transmission system access through the addition of a 138kV transmission line for connection of the mine to the existing transmission line.

CIF Construction was contracted to provide concrete foundations and piers for the coal processing plant.


Phase one was funded through a $300m senior debt facility from EIG Global Energy. The second phase is planned to be funded through the cash flows generated from the first phase.