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Ministry of Energy Mines and Responsible for Core Review

Coal in British Columbia

by Barry Ryan, 2002 (Revised by Janet Riddell 2016)




Coal in British Columbia is Jurassic and younger in age and varies in rank from lignite to anthracite.  It is distributed throughout the province.  There is estimated to be an ultimate coal resource available for surface or shallow underground mining of over 20 billion tonnes in the province.  The coal resource that has potential for coalbed methane (CBM) exploration is over 250 billion tonnes.  Tonnages mentioned in the text are estimates of measured resources available for underground or surface mining only (Table 1).


The major coalfields in British Columbia follow the northwest trending belt of Jura-Cretaceous rocks, which parallels the Rocky Mountain foothills in the northeast and southeast of the province (Fig. 1).   The geology is characterized by folds and thrusts, which can make underground mining difficult; but combinations of topography and dipping coal measures often produce attractive open pit mining potential.  The Kootenay coalfields, in southeast, host 5 coal mines with proven in-place reserves of over 1.3 billion tonnes.  Coal rank is generally medium-volatile bituminous but varies from high-volatile bituminous to low-volatile bituminous. The Peace River coalfield in northeast has in-place mineable resources of over 1 billion tonnes of mainly medium-volatile bituminous coal, though high-volatile and low-volatile bituminous resources also occur1.  The coalfield hosts two coal mines but there is active exploration in the field and on at least one property is in the permitting stage as a prelude to obtaining a mining lease.


Other important coalfields are in the interior of the province and on Vancouver Island.  On the Island there are two upper Cretaceous coalfields.  The southern Nanaimo coalfield is largely mined-out and contains an underground mineable in-place resource of less than 10 million tonnes of high-volatile bituminous coal.  The northern Comox Coalfield, which hosts the Quinsam Mine, contains an underground mineable measured resource of over 90 million tonnes of high-volatile coal.2.  In the interior of the province there is a surface mineable proven and probable reserve of about 125 million tonnes of anthracite in the Mount Klappan area.  The probable resource of the combined Klappan and Groundhog coalfields, which are Jura-Cretaceous in age, is over 1.5 billion tonnes3.  There are a number of smaller Cretaceous or Tertiary deposits in the interior of the province.  By far the largest is the Eocene Hat Creek deposit, which has proven mineable reserves of about 500 million tonnes of lignite to sub bituminous coal and an ultimate resource that may exceed 10 billion tonnes.  The Basin mine in the Tulameen area has operated intermittently in recent years; it contains a proven reserve of about 20 million tonnes of surface mineable high-volatile bituminous coal.


Most of the coal exported from British Columbia comes from the Kootenay and Peace River coalfields and is a medium-volatile coking coal similar in quality to many Permian coals exported from Australia.  British Columbia export coals are characterized by variable or moderate contents of inertinite coal macerals, moderate fluidity and low alkali content in the ash.  These characteristics generally improve both hot and cold coke strength and decrease coke oven pressure6,7.  The province uses very little coal internally as no electricity in the province is generated by coal. 

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Coalbed Methane in British Columbia

The Province has substantial potential resources of CBM (Fig. 1, Table 2).  At present there are no producing CBM wells in British Columbia.  Papers and reports discussing the CBM potential of British Columbia can be found here: 


Coalfields of British Columbia

The major coalfields (Table 3) of British Columbia are grouped into Rocky Mountains, Insular and Intermontane coalfields.  The insular belt includes the coalfields and deposits on Vancouver Island and small deposits on the Queen Charlotte Islands to the north.  The Intermontane Belt includes a number of coalfields and deposits through the centre of the province and the Rocky Mountain Belt includes the important coalfields in the southeast and northeast of the province, where most of the mines are located.  Coal quality data for the province are available from a number of sources.8,9,10,11,12


Rocky Mountain Belt Coalfields

East Kootenay

Coalfields - The East Kootenay Coalfields (Fig. 1, Fig. 2, Fig. 3, Fig. 4, Fig. 5) comprise three separate fields extending from the Montana border northward and known respectively as Flathead, Crowsnest, and Elk Valley coalfields 19,20.  Visit: to view a compilation map of the East Kootenay coalfields.


These are the most important coalfields of the province, hav­ing produced, since 1898, over 780 million tonnes of mainly metallurgical coal.  All three fields are underlain by the Jura-Cretaceous Kootenay Group, which contains the 100 to 700 metres thick coal-bearing Mist Mountain Formation.  Coal seams are found through out the formation though the thicker seams occur lower in the section.  The formation contains from 4 to over 30 seams, which make up from 8% to 12% of the thickness of the formation.  Cumulative coal thickness ranges up to over 70 metres.  The area has experienced moderate to intense folding and thrust faulting, which has caused repetitions and structural thicken­ing of seams.   Rank varies from low to high-volatile A bituminous though most of the coal is medium-volatile bituminous and of metallurgical grade.


The five open-pit mines in the East Kootenay coalfields are operated by Teck Coal.  Coal Mountain Operations produces high-volatile A bituminous PCI and thermal coal. The Elkview Mine (formally the Balmer Mine) produces coking coal, mainly from the bottom four seams in the Mist Mountain Formation.


There are three mines in the Elk Valley Coalfield.  The Line Creek Mine produces medium-volatile hard coking coal, along with some PCI and thermal coal.  In the northern part of the Elk Valley coalfield, Greenhills and Fording River mines produce medium and high-volatile coking coal from a number of seams through a thick Mist Mountain section  

The data in the table indicate average quality for high and medium-volatile metallurgical coal.  In general thermal coal has similar quality characteristics except for higher ash and lower FSI values.

The general clean coal specifications are: 7


Product coal dry basis Medium-volatile High-volatile
Volatile matter (%) 21 - 28 32
Fixed carbon (%) 64 - 69 62
Ash (%) 8 - 9.8 6
Sulfur (%) 0.3 -0.7 0.4 - 0.8
Btu/lb 13,750 - 14,200 14,200 - 15,050
Mj/kg 32 -33 33 - 35
Hardgrove index >80 >60
Rmax% 1.1 - 1.35 0.8 - 1.1

Peace River Coalfield - This coalfield extends for 400 kilometres through the northeast part of the province1,21 (Fig. 1).  Coal was discovered in the area in 1793 but lack of infrastructure restricted mining to small operations serving local needs and prior to 1980 less than 100,000 tonnes were mined.  130 million tonnes of coal have been mined in northeast B.C. since the 1980s.  Coal occurs in the Gething and Gates formations both of Lower Cretaceous age.  Visit: for a compilation of the Peace River coalfields.

In the northern part of the field high-volatile bituminous to semi-anthracite coal seams are better developed in the Gething Formation.  A number of deposits were explored in the period 1975 to 1985.  The Willow Creek and Brule mines produced PCI coal through the early 2000s but are currently not in production due to low coal prices.


The Gething Formation thins to the south and economic seams are found in the overlying Gates Formation.  These seams, which are medium-volatile bituminous, were mined at the Bullmoose and Quintette Mines from the 1980s until early in the 2000s, and at the Wolverine and Trend mines in the 2000s.

The Gates Formation extends southeast and hosts a number of interesting deposits (Monkman, Belcourt and Saxon) which contain resources of medium-volatile hard coking coal.  These were intensely explored in the period 1978 to 1986. 


The coal-bearing formations are folded and contain thrust faults.  The intensity of deformation is variable.  The structure in some pits in the old Quintette Mine is extremely complex, whereas the Bullmoose Mine was developed in an open shallow-plunging syncline.  Coal seams at the Sukunka property are flat dipping and the property is a candidate for underground room and pillar or long wall mining.

The rank of coal in the Gething Formation is variable although the coal generally washes easily to a low-ash content.  Coal in the Gates Formation is generally medium-volatile bituminous, though some of the deposits in the south contain high-volatile bituminous coal.  Coal from both formations is low in sulphur and phosphorus.


The clean coal quality of the Gates Formation coal mined is approximately:

  As shipped quality Bullmoose Mine
Moisture (%) 8.0
Volatile matter (%) 26.6
Fixed carbon (%) 56.9
Ash (%) 8.5
Sulphur (%) 0.4
Btu/lb 13,800
Mj/kg 30.18
FSI 5.5 - 7
Hardgrove index 70 - 80
Rmax% 1.1

Insular Coalfields

Graham Island Coal Deposits - Coal deposits on the Queen Charlotte Islands have not been fully mapped because of thick vegetation, lack of outcrop and complex geology.  All the deposits are on the larger northern Graham Island and are either Tertiary or Jura-Cretaceous.  Tertiary lignites are exposed in the northeast coastal areas and the older anthracites and bituminous deposits outcrop in the southwestern part of the island. The variation in rank of the older deposits is attributed to the presence of younger volcanic rocks in the area.  The Jura-Cretaceous deposits were discovered in 1865 and were mined in the period 1865 to 1872, when a few thousand tonnes were extracted. 

Typical analyses of the three groups are:
  Lignite HV Bituminous Anthracite
Moisture (%) 18.5 1.2 1.8
Volatile matter (%) 44.2 36.2 4.7
Fixed carbon (%) 34.7 46.5 85.7
Ash (%) 2.3 16.1 6.6
Sulfur (%) 0.3 1.0 0.9
Btu/lb ND 11,235  
Mj/kg ND 26.13  


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Suquash Deposit - This small deposit, which was the first deposit to be developed on the Vancouver Island, underlies an area of about 105 square kilometres on the northeastern part of the island (Fig. 1).  A small mine operated from 1849 to 1851 and produced 23,000 tonnes of high-volatile C to B bituminous coal from Upper Cretaceous rocks.  The coal generally has high ash contents and there has been little activity on the property in recent decades.

Moisture (%) 6
Volatile matter (%) 23
Fixed carbon (%) 25.4
Ash (%) 45.3
Sulphur (%) 2.2
Btu/lb 11,580
Mj/kg 26.94
Hardgrove index 43
FSI 1.5
Rmax% 0.63 - 0.81

Comox Coalfield - The Upper Cretaceous Nanaimo Group outcrops extensively on the eastern side of Vancouver Island. In the Comox coalfield (Fig. 1) coal is found in the lower most Comox Formation, which dips eastward with the regional dip complicated by broad folds, thrusts and normal faults.  Generally deformation is more intense along the western margin of the basin.  The Comox Coalfield, which covers an area of over 2,000 square kilometres produced 18.6 million tonnes of high-volatile A and B bituminous coal from 1888 to 1953.  Underground mining took place on three of four principal seams in the Upper Cretaceous Comox Formation.  The Quinsam underground room and pillar mine produced an average of 300 000 tonnes per year of high-volatile A bituminous thermal coal, but is currently closed due to low prices.

A typical clean coal analysis on an air-dried basis is:
Moisture (%) 3.0
Volatile matter (%) 36.5
Fixed carbon (%) 47
Ash (%) 13.5
Sulphur (%) 0.25
Btu/lb 11,880
Mj/kg 27.6
Hardgrove index 48
FSI low
Rmax% 0.6 - 0.88

Nanaimo Coalfield - The Comox Formation is overlain by marine shales and the Upper Cretaceous Extension and Protection Formations, which contain three mineable seams.  These formations outcrop in the area around the city of Nanaimo and define the Nanaimo Coalfield (Fig. 1), which covers about 1300 square kilometres.  Coal seams are broken by numerous of normal faults, which disrupt an easterly regional dip.  In the hundred years preceding 1953, more than 50 million tonnes of high-volatile A and B bituminous coal were produced from this field.  The coal was sold mainly as a thermal coal, though some was used to make coke on the Island.  The producing area, in which the Douglas, Newcastle, and Wellington seams were mined, covered about 170 square kilometres.

Air-dried quality for the three seams is reported:
  Douglas Wellington Newcastle
Moisture (%) 1.6 1.9 1.6
Volatile matter (%) 43.2 39.4 39.7
Fixed carbon (%) 45.5 45.7 47.7
Ash (%) 9.2 11.7 10.1
Sulphur (%) 1.2 1.3 0.9
Btu/lb 13,160 12,470 12,380
Mj/kg 30.61 29.01 29.84
Hardgrove index 67 67 67
FSI ND 3 - 4 ND
Rmax% all seams 0.64 - 0.72    

Intermontane Belt Coalfields

The Groundhog Coalfield - This coalfield covers approximately 2,300 square kilometres in northern part of the Intermontane in an area referred to as the Bowser Basin (Fig. 1).  The coal is contained in the Currier Formation of the Bowser Lake Group, which is Jura-Cretaceous in age.  The formation is up to 1100 metres thick and contains up to 25 coal seams, which range in thickness up to 7 metres.13  Coal rank is predominantly anthracite.


The area is extensively folded with the regional structure is controlled by a northwest trending synclinorium (the Beirnes Synclinorium).14   The coalfield was extensively explored in the 1980s.


Typical air-dried analyses are:

Raw Clean coal air-dried basis
Moisture (%) 2.0 1.0
Volatile matter (%) 8.0 6.5
Fixed carbon (%) 54.0 85.5
Ash (%) 36.0 7.0
Sulphur (%) 0.5 0.5
Btu/lb 8,800 13,320
Mj/kg 20.47 31.0
Hardgrove index   3
Rmax% 2.8 - 4.4  


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Telkwa Coalfield

- The Telkwa Coalfield (Fig. 1) produced approximately 433,000 tons of thermal coal for domestic consumption in the period 1918 to 1970.  Coal is contained in the Early Cretaceous Skeena Group, which is divided into four units.  The lowest (unit 1) contains a single coal zone and unit 3, which averages 90 metres in thickness, contains over 10 seams of mineable thickness.15,16   The seams are folded into open folds and broken by thrusts and normal faults.  The coal is generally high-volatile A bituminous but in a few locations rank increases to anthracite.


The following is estimated product quality:

Moisture (%) 10
Volatile matter (%) 25.6
Fixed carbon (%) 65
Ash (%) 7.7
Sulphur (%) 1.0
Btu/lb 10,950
Mj/kg 25.6
FSI 0.0 - 5.5
Hardgrove index 40 - 70
Rmax% average 1.0

Bowron River deposit - An area of Tertiary coal-bearing rocks (Fig. 1) are preserved in a graben-like structure covering 47.5 square kilometres.17   Three coal seams with a cumulative thickness of 8.5 metres are contained in the lower 75 metres of a 600 metre sedimentary section.  The seams dip at 20° to 60°, limiting any surface-mining potential.  There has been some underground exploration but no mining and there has been no exploration since 1990.  Coal rank is high-volatile C and B bituminous.  The deposit is noteworthy because it contains 8% resin.

An average analysis from drill core is:

Moisture (%) db
Volatile matter (%) 36.7
Fixed carbon (%) 42
Ash (%) 24.6
Sulphur (%) 1.39
Btu/lb 11,000
Mj/kg 25.59
FSI 1 - 3
Hardgrove index 58
Rmax% 0.65

Similkameen Coalfield

- This coalfield is comprised of two separate Tertiary basins referred to as Tulameen and Princeton (Fig. 1).  About 4 million tonnes of high-volatile coal were produced prior to 1961, with the production split evenly between the two basins.  From 1919 to 1940 underground coal mines extracted about 2 million tonnes from the Tulameen basin and in the 1950’s.  Surface mining extracted about 0.15 million tonnes.


There was renewed exploration in the Tulameen basin in the 1970’s and 1980’s and a major exploration program in 1998.  In 1999 a bulk sample was test washed with favourable results.  There are two seams in the deposit.  The upper main seam ranges in thickness from 18 to 34 metres and the lower seam averages 7.5 metres.  The seams are thought to underlie the whole basin, which covers 13 square kilometres.  Coal rank is generally high-volatile C to B bituminous.


The Princeton Basin covers an area of about 170 square kilometres.  There were 13 small underground and one surface mine that operated in the central part of the basin up till about 1961.  Coal seam stratigraphy is not well understood and this has hampered development.  Four coal zones with a cumulative coal thickness of 25 metres or more are present.  They occur over a stratigraphic section of 500 metres.  Rank of the coal varies from lignite to high-volatile B bituminous.

Typical analyses for both basins are:

  Tulameen Princeton
  db db
Volatile matter (%) 37.4 33.3 - 34.4
Fixed carbon (%) 42.52 40.5 - 42.6
Ash (%) 20.22 23 - 26.1
Sulphur (%) 0.44 - 0.66 0.75 - 0.83
Btu/lb 10,828 9,941 - 10,336
Mj/kg 25.2 23.1 - 24.0
Hardgrove index 39 - 45 39 - 45
Rmax% 0.62-0.86 0.52


Merritt Coalfield - The Merritt Coalfield (Fig. 1) comprises several isolated Tertiary sedimentary areas that outcrop within a radius of 15 kilometres and cover an area of 105 square kilometres.  Some of the areas are overlain by recent volcanics.  From 1906 to 1963, underground mines in the area produced 2.4 million tonnes of high-volatile C to A bituminous coal.  Reportedly, several seams of 1.5 metres thickness are present, but faulting and rapid lateral changes of stratigraphy made seam correlation and underground mining difficult.


A typical air-dried analysis is:

Moisture (%) air-dried 5
Volatile matter (%) 34.0
Fixed carbon (%) 52.0
Ash (%) 9.0
Sulphur (%) 0.5
Btu/lb 12,500
Mj/kg 29.08
Hardgrove index 57
Rmax% 0.64-

Hat Creek Coalfield - A major resource of lignite to sub ­bituminous B coal exists in a graben, 26 kilometres long and 4 kilometres wide, that occupies the Hat Creek Valley (Fig. 1).  The Tertiary rocks in the graben contain a coal member that is about 1200 metres thick, of which up to 550 metres is coal.  This is one of the thickest accumulations of coal in the world.4  Two potential mining areas have been outlined and designated as deposits 1 in the north and 2 in the south.  Deposit 1 contains two coal seams.  The upper is 120 to 250 metres thick and the lower, which is 450 to 550 metres thick, is divided into 3 parts.  The deposit is faulted and seams are folded and moderately to steeply dipping.  The area contains a resource of about 10 billion tonnes, of which approximately 500 million tonnes of proven reserve are within the Number 1 deposit. 

Typical raw as-received coal quality is:

Moisture as-received (%) 23.5
Volatile matter (%) 24.8
Fixed carbon (%) 25.1
Ash (%) 26.6
Sulphur (%) 0.2 - 0.7
Btu/lb 5,800
Mj/kg 13.49
Hardgrove index 58
Rmax% 0.4


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Tuya River Coalfield - A 200 square kilometre area of Tertiary rocks (Fig. 1) contains a single coal zone with cumulative coal thickness that varies from 10 to 30 metres.18  The area is isolated and has not been considered for development, but it does contain a resource of over 400 million tonnes of high-volatile B bituminous coal.


A typical average raw analysis on an as-received basis is:

Moisture (%) 12.4
Volatile matter (%) 30.7
Fixed carbon (%) 37.8
Ash (%) 19.1
Sulphur (%) 0.5
Btu/lb 7,740
Mj/kg 18
Hardgrove index 53
Rmax% 0.6 - 0.8

Coal River Coalfield - Coal River cuts through an area of Tertiary rocks exposing a single seam of lignite.5  The complete seam is not exposed but partial seam thicknesses range up to 8 metres.  The basin (Fig. 1) covers an area of about 35 square kilometres and contains a resource of up to 200 million tonnes. 





For current information on coal production and exploration:


Please refer to the latest version of the British Columbia Coal Industry Overview, available at:  

An average air-dried analysis is:

Moisture (%) as-received 9.4
Moisture (%) air-dried 13.8
Volatile matter (%) 41.18
Fixed carbon(%) 29.94
Ash (%) 4.84
Sulphur (%) 0.15
Btu/lb 9,785
Mj/kg 22.76
Rmax% 0.2

 Selected References

1 Smith, G.G., 1989, Coal Resources of Canada; Geological Survey of Canada, Paper 89-4, pages 29-68.
2 Gardner, S.L., 1995, Coal Resources and Coal Mining on Vancouver Island; B.C. Ministry of Employment and Investment, BC Geological Survey, Open file 1997-19.
3 Ryan, B.D. and Dawson, F.M., 1993, Coal and Coalbed Methane Potential of the Bowser Basin Northern British Columbia; Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources British Columbia, Open File 1993-31.
4 Campbell, D.D., Jory, L.T. and Saunders, C.R., 1977, Geology of the Hat Creek Coal Deposits; Canadian Mining and Metallurgical Bulletin, V 70,, No. 782, pages 99-108.
5 Ryan, B.D., 1996, Lignite Occurrences on the Coal River, Northern British Columbia (94M/10); in Geological Fieldwork 1995,  B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Paper 1996-1, pages 271-275.
6 Pearson, D.E., 1980, The Quality of Western Canadian Coking Coals. Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Bulletin v. 73.
7 Price, J.T. and Gransden, J.F., 1987, Metallurgical Coals in Canada: Resources, Research and Utilization; Energy Mines and Resources Canada, CANMET Report 87-2E.
8 Martonhegyi, F., 1985, Intermontane Coal Basins in the Western Cordillera; Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Special Volume 31, Coal in Canada, pages 269-277.
9 British Columbia Coal Quality Catalog (1992): Mineral Resources Division, BC Geological Survey, Information Circular, 1992-20.
10 Ryan, B.D., 1997, Coal Quality Variations in the Gething Formation Northeast British Columbia (93O,J,I); Ministry of Employment and Investment, Paper 1997-1, pages 373-397.
11 Ryan, B.D. and Grieve, D.A., 1995, Source and Distribution of Phosphorus in British Columbia Coal Seams; in Geological fieldwork 1996, Grant, B. and Newell, J.M., Editors, B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Paper 1996-1, pages 277-294.
12 Coal in British Columbia, 1986, Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, BC Geological Survey, Paper 1986-3.
13 MacLeod, S.E. and Hills, L.V., 199, Conformable Late Jurassic (Oxfordian) to Early Cretaceous Strata, Northern Bowser Basin, British Columbia: A Sedimentological and Paleontological Model; Canadian Journal of Earth Science, Volume 27, pages 988-998.
14 Moffat, I.W. and Bustin, R. M., 1993, Deformational History of the Groundhog Coalfield, Northeastern Bowser Basin, British Columbia; Styles, Superposition and Tectonic Implications; Bulletin of Canadian Petroleum Geology, Volume 41, pages 1 to 16.
15 Ryan, B.D. and Dawson, M.F. (1994): Potential Coal and Coalbed Methane Resource of the Telkwa Coalfield, Central British Columbia; in Geological Fieldwork 1993, B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Paper 1994-1, pages 225-243.
16 Palsgrove, R.J. and Bustin, R.M., 1991, Stratigraphy and Sedimentology of the Lower Skeena Group, Telkwa Coalfield, Central British Columbia, B.C. NTS 93L/11, B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Paper 1991-2.
17 Matheson, A. and Mansour Sadre, 1991, Subsurface Coal Sampling Survey, Bowron River Coal deposits, Central British Columbia, 93H/13, B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Paper 1991-1, pages 391-397.
18 Ryan, B.D., 1991, Geology and Potential Coal and Coalbed Methane Resources of the Tuya River Coal Basin. in Geological Fieldwork 1990, B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Paper 1991-1, pages 419-429.
19 Grieve, D., 1985, Coalfields of the East Kootenay Region, Southwestern British Columbia. The Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Special Volume 31, Coal in Canada, pages 203-211.
20 Grieve, D., 1992 Geology and Rank Distribution of the Elk Valley Coalfield, S.E. B.C., British Columbia, Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, BC Geological Survey, Bulletin 82.
21 Duff, P. McL, and Gilchrist, R.D., 1981, Correlation of Lower Cretaceous Coal Measures, Peace River Coalfield, British Columbia, Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, BC Geological Survey, Paper, 1981-83.


Prepared by

Barry Ryan PhD, P.Geo,
Coal and Coalbed Methane Geologist (retired)


Figures and Tables


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For questions or more information on geology and minerals in British Columbia please contact GSB Mailbox or use the toll free number (B.C. residents only).