November 23, 2020
Coal production has adverse impacts on both land and water ecosystems.
On land, habitat destruction and fragmentation are major concerns for the AWA. Mining completely eradicates the existing vegetation, alters soil composition, and displaces fauna which can result in permanently scarred landscapes. Large sites cleared for open-pit mines and the associated infrastructure can change the entire topography of the area. Designation of land for coal leases should avoid areas of concern that include crucial habitat for threatened species and key migratory routes for large ungulates. Wetlands, aquifers, and surface waters are also negatively affected by coal mining and coal-fired power plants. Wetlands are destroyed in site areas, significant amounts of freshwater are used for commercial cooling and tailings leach out harmful pollutants into watersheds. Coal companies should be held accountable for initial ecological assessments, remediation plans and reclamation efforts to mitigate environmental damage.
AWA mandates the protection and perpetuation of intact wild areas around the province, free of industrial processes. We believe any of these areas of environmental significance including habitats of endangered species, should have strict prohibitions against coal exploration, development and use. In working landscape regions where economic development already exists, coal needs to be produced using an environmentally responsible approach.
Coal production has adverse impacts on both land and water ecosystems. On land, habitat destruction and fragmentation are major concerns for the AWA. Mining completely eradicates the existing vegetation, alters soil composition, and displaces fauna which can result in permanently scarred landscapes. Large sites cleared for open-pit mines and the associated infrastructure can change the entire topography of the area. Designation of land for coal leases should avoid areas of concern that include crucial habitat for threatened species and key migratory routes for large ungulates.
Wetlands, aquifers, and surface waters are also negatively affected by coal mining and coal-fired power plants. Wetlands are destroyed in site areas as significant amounts of freshwater are used for commercial cooling and tailing leach out harmful pollutants into watersheds. Coal companies should be held accountable for initial ecological assessments, remediation plans and reclamation efforts to mitigate environmental damage.
Coal-fired power plants generate the majority of electricity in Alberta. AWA believes that we need to start moving away from such environmentally destructive methods of power generation. Given that coal-fired power plants significantly contribute to Alberta’s large greenhouse gas emissions, these plants play a vital role in determining whether Canada meets its federal and international commitments on climate change. The provincial government needs to apply more stringent emission regulations to existing and new power plants to uphold these obligations.
Since 1976, coal mining in Alberta has been regulated by the province’s Coal Policy which includes land categorization that determines restrictions on coal exploration and extraction. Any updates to this policy need to enhance its intent and environmental focus. For any new coal developments, AWA supports extensive consultation with all stakeholders and any concerned parties.
Due to the large amounts of metallurgical (coking) coal reserves along the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains, this is a major area of concern for the AWA and special regulations in this area are needed to protect the existing wildlife, important headwaters, and critical habitat. Cumulative effects management needs to be an integral part of planning for future land use frameworks. The Alberta government should recognize the far-reaching and resonating impacts of coal production on already strained ecosystems.
On May 15th, 2020, the provincial government announced that it would be rescinding Alberta’s Coal Policy (effective as of June 1st), with only Category 1 lands remaining closed to mining exploration and development. In early June, AWA initiated the Coal Policy Working Group to allow for individuals, NGOs and professionals who were concerned about this change to effectively collaborate and share relevant information.
On February 8 2021, following widespread outcry from concerned Albertans of all walks of life, the Government of Alberta reversed course and announced they would reinstate the 1976 Coal Policy. The government announced that this move will include reinstating the four coal categories that circumscribe where and how coal leasing, exploration and development can occur. The Energy Minister also issued a directive to the Alberta Energy Regulator indicating that no mountaintop removal will be permitted and all of the restrictions under the 1976 coal categories are to apply, including all restrictions on surface mining in Category 2 lands.
See Also – Maps:
Coal Activity, acquired in 2016 and produced by the Government of Alberta shows coal leases, coal lease applications, and mineral ownership across the province.
Coal Mines and Power Plants, last updated in October 2014, shows active extraction and burning sites across the province.
Maps: Obed Mountain
Surface Water Sample Locations was released in December 2013 and shows all the places downstream of the mine permit location where surface water was sampled along the Athabasca River.
Maps: Clearwater County
Clearwater Coal Development Nodes delineates the category two area, as determined in the Alberta Coal Policy, from the Clearwater County Land Ownership Map.
Stop Coal Mining posters:
On June 9, AWA makes presentation to Coal Policy Committee and provides written submission for the public record.
On June 8, AWA holds the 4th in a series of monthly Town Halls with expert panelists presenting on issues related to coal mining including health, communities, economics and regulation.
On May 18, more than 24,000 people respond to the Government of Alberta’s coal survey with resounding concerns about coal mining. More than two thirds of survey participants (70%) believe exploiting Alberta coal has a major effect on them. All of the effects listed in the summary are negative ones. An equally impressive majority dismissed the economic appeal of strip mining in Alberta. Nearly two-thirds of participants (64.3%) said the economic benefits of coal mining are “not important at all.”
On April 23, the Government of Alberta halts all coal exploration in Category 2 lands while consultations for a new Coal Policy proceed.
On February 8, following widespread outcry from concerned Albertans of all walks of life, the Government of Alberta reverses course and announces they will reinstate the 1976 Alberta Coal Policy, which was rescinded in June 2020. The government announces that this move will include reinstating the four coal categories which circumscribe where and how coal leasing, exploration and development can occur. The Energy Minister also issues a directive to the Alberta Energy Regulator indicating that no mountaintop removal will be permitted and all of the restrictions under the 1976 coal categories are to apply, including all restrictions on surface mining in Category 2 lands.
In January, AWA forms a collective of concerned colleagues, individuals and ENGOs – the Coal Policy Working Group. The group meets regularly throughout the months strategizing and supporting initiatives begin taken. A Day of Action including a joint news conference and four Town Hall presentations were implemented through the efforts of the group and AWA.
On November 8, AWA writes the Grassy Mountain Joint Review Panel hearing into Benga Mining Ltd.’s proposal to bring metallurgical coal mining back to the Crowsnest Pass is an environmental issue that warrants more sustained media coverage than the editors of mainstream media outlets have delivered. While the beginning of this hearing attracted considerable media attention, coverage essentially has vanished as the substantive arguments – pro and con – have commenced. AWA begins writing a Blog on the Grassy Mountain Mining Proposal Joint Review Panel Hearing. Five comprehensive Blog Posts are made.
On October 27, the federal-provincial Joint Review Panel begins public hearings into the Grassy Mountain Coal Project. This open-pit coal mine would be located approximately seven kilometres north of Blairmore and would be designed to produce up to 4.5 million tonnes of metallurgical coal per year. Benga Mining, the project’s proponent, expects to mine coal there for the next 20-plus years. The mine would sprawl over more than 60 square kilometres. All of the mine’s operations would occur in one or more Environmentally Significant Areas. AWA attends the public hearings. AWA joined forces with the Grassy Mountain Group, a group of local landowners in the Crowsnest, to oppose this major threat to the ecological integrity of this corner of southwest Alberta. The law firm of Ackroyd LLP is representing our coalition. In addition to submissions of the landowners, the Coalition retains experts to examine many of the impacts this project will have on the environment and the people who live in the Crowsnest.
On June 1, the Government of Alberta rescinds the 1976 Alberta Coal Policy without consulting the public. The 1976 Alberta Coal Policy served very well the broader interests of Alberta’s citizens for over 45 years. It reflected Albertans preference for protection of a greater part of the Eastern Slopes which was clearly expressed in public hearings at the time while it allowed operation of six mines exporting both metallurgical and thermal coal during this period.
A Joint Review Panel requests more information from Benga Mining Ltd before making a decision on a 2020 hearing into the reopening of the Grassy Mountain near Crowsnest Pass.
On June 9, owners of the Obed Mountain Coal Mine that spilled into the Athabasca River in 2013 are fined $3.5 million after pleading guilty to two counts under the federal Fisheries Act – an issue that AWA played a key role keeping before the media. The mine owners are also assessed a $925,000 penalty by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) after being found guilty under one count of the provincial Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. AWA works with the Fort McMurray First Nation to achieve further accountability for Obed spill and protection for Athabasca Rainbow Trout. Subsequently AWA is monitoring the cleanup efforts in the Apetowun Stream.
In February, Grande Cache Coal declares bankruptcy in February 2017 and its operation is subsequently purchased by CST Canada Coal Ltd. in 2018. AWA meets with CST Canada, emphasizing historic concerns for Caw Ridge habitat and the importance of not activating Surface Mine 12.
On September 30, Alberta Energy announces an interim restriction has been placed on the sale of mineral rights within all caribou ranges in Alberta, including in AWA Kakwa Area of Concern. The restriction applies to petroleum and natural gas, oil sands, coal and metallic and industrial mineral rights.
AWA prepares for a possible hearing for a new open pit coal mine on Grassy Mountain by forming AWA and Grassy Mountain Group; AWA learns that newly-acquired critical habitat order for the threatened Westslope Cutthroat Trout may apply to a new mine at Grassy Mountain.
On October 31, a failure of Dyke E at the Obed Mountain Coal Mine tailings pond dam causes a “breach” that spills 670 million litres of contaminated water into the Athabasca River. During the AER’s subsequent investigation of the spill, the Regulator determined that, not only had Dyke E been built in the wrong location, but that it was built too quickly to have been done properly. The environmental coordinator at the time Dyke E was constructed corroborates these serious inadequacies. Dyke F, built at the same time, was found to have also been built improperly, and had nearly failed when wastewater seepage was discovered in 2002.
On October 10, the draft South Saskatchewan Regional Plan is released and refers to coal exploration and development as an economic opportunity in the mountains, foothills, and plains. The AWA participated in 14 of the 21 public consultation sessions and strongly opposed any coal mining in the south eastern slopes, urging the Alberta government to seriously consider the harmful impacts of large coking coal mines on securing headwaters and recovering species at risk and the need to incorporate enhanced protections for environmentally significant areas into the final South Saskatchewan Regional Plan.
Grande Cache Coal is sold to Chinese-based Winsway Coking Coal Holdings Ltd. and Japanese-based Marubeni Corporation.
On August 17, Maxim Power Corp is given expedited project approval to construct a new coal-fired power plant to ensure the plant is constructed and commissioned before July, 2015 when new federal emissions regulations would come into effect. Maxim Power Corp. also applied to expand HR Milner power plant, outside of Grande Cache AB. AWA is opposed this expansion, and is concerned with the increased greenhouse gas emissions, extraction and discharge of wastewater into the Little Smoky River, and impact of development and exploratory activities within the vicinity of Caw Ridge.
In May, the Energy Resources Conservation Board announces that Grande Cache Coal has applied to develop, operate, and reclaim its No. 8 mine project in the Kakwa. The project includes a surface mine, associated infrastructure, haul road, and three settling ponds. The resulting new disturbance is expected to be 814 ha in size and is expected to produce 1,680,000 tonnes of raw coal per year. AWA does not oppose the No. 8 mine project but expects the area to be fully reclaimed.
On November 2, a coalition of Canadian conservation groups, including AWA announces that they are launching another legal challenge of the controversial Cheviot Coal Mine Project underway near Jasper National Park, Alberta. The groups argue that the federal government’s recent authorization of the first part of the mine, called the Cheviot Creek Development, should be quashed because it would result in the destruction of sensitive migratory bird habitat – directly contravening the federal Migratory Bird Conventions Act.
On May 13, Grande Cache Coal (GCC) announces it has signed a letter of intent with North American Enterprises Ltd. (NAEL) to conduct mining and other services for them. NAEL will:
GCC raises $50M from selling common shares to start mining. GCC also applies to Alberta Environment for an amendment to the existing approval for the opening up, construction, operation and reclamation of the No. 12 Mine south B2 Extension Phase 1 mine and coal processing facility. The proposed development includes the No. 12 Mine South B2 Extension open pit mine, haul roads, Flood Creek Disposal facility, coal processing plant and associated infrastructure (Twp 58, Ranges 7,8,9, and 10, W6). The amendment includes approximately 10.79 hectares of new disturbance and 262.33 hectares of previously disturbed land and will be reclaimed to wildlife habitat.
On September 6, Grande Cache Coal Company Inc. (GCC), an affiliate of Smoky River International (SRI), acquires 2 SRCL leases covering 1,100 ha for operating an underground coal mine No. 7 and surface mine No. 8 mines from the provincial government. Grand Cache Coal Corporation is a private Alberta company formed solely for reactivating coal mining in the Grande Cache area. A lease implies construction, operation and reclaiming. Leases purchased from AB Government for $50,000.
On March 31, operations cease at the Smoky River Coal mine and coal processing plant. The mine is returned to the Crown.
On October 18, Alberta Environment and the Alberta Energy and Utility Board approve the extension of the GCC B2 pit without public hearings despite repeated objections to the project and requests to hold a public hearing.
In December, the AWA Coalition wins the appeal for a new hearing regarding the Cheviot Coal Mine development. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee urges Canada to reconsider 1997 mine approval & work on alternatives with Alberta due to the proximity of the Cheviot mine site to Jasper National Park, a World Heritage Site. In April 1999, the Federal Court rules in favor of the AWA Coalition, determining that the joint federal-provincial environmental review did not comply with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA).
The Government of Alberta deregulates the code of practice for coal exploration, allowing companies to build roads and drill exploratory holes without prior project approval, notice to the public and right of appeal.
Cardinal River Coals Ltd (CRC) proposes an open pit surface coal mine and coal processing plant to be known as the Cheviot Mine, backed by Edmonton Based Luscar Ltd. and CONSOL Energy Canada Ltd. The mine is to be located on public land in the heart of the Cardinal Divide region 70km south of Hinton and 2 km from Jasper National Park boundary. The $250 million mine project offers 450 permanent positions over 20 years and would continue to supply metallurgical coal (coking coal) primarily to steel mills in Asia, approximately 3.2 million clean metric tonnes per year. The Cheviot project is set to replace the aging and depleting Luscar Mine operations located 22 km to the north. Luscar coal reserves are depleting and require the establishment of Cheviot to maintain workforce and supply their export customers. Upon approval, mine development would begin in 1999.
Obed Mountain Coal Ltd. submits a proposal to prepare tailings ponds that join together two mined-out pits, named the Red/Green Pits, at their Obed Mountain Mine approximately 30km NE of Hinton. Six dykes (dykes A through F) are to be built to increase storage capacity of the pits. Construction of Dykes E and F begins soon after.
On June 15, the Alberta Coal Policy (A Coal Development Policy for Alberta [6mb pdf]) is enacted June 15, 1976. It is one of the most enlightened resource policies in Canada, which puts critical wildlife habitat out of bounds for coal strip mining.
This policy partitions land along Alberta’s Eastern Slopes into 4 categories (see map [9mb pdf]):
On one hand the policy closed opportunity for mining in areas of sensitive mountain and especially alpine or semi-alpine environment, or in areas too distant from infrastructure. On the other hand, coal deposits located near existing railways and towns were placed in Category 4 which permitted mine development, both surface and underground, in some ecologically sensitive areas. Categories 2 and 3 are a compromise between the two perspectives.
While in 1970 only few conditions were attached to an exploration permit by 1975 more than 40 conditions were in place.
AWA works with the Government of Alberta develop the Alberta Coal Policy. The process leading to the development of the Policy is one of the most progressive and enlightened in the history of Alberta, involving extensive consultation and input from all sectors. The Coal Policy’s intent is to formulate a royalty regime from coal production and to manage coal exploration and coal mines development in the province with special emphasis on the Eastern Slopes. By this time there were 25 coal fields with primarily coking (metallurgical) coal and six coal fields with high quality thermal coal designated in the Mountains and Foothills. In the mid seventies some Alberta government estimates are that as many as 40 mines will develop in the Foothills and Mountain coal regions.
On November 25, Environment Minister Dave Russell said it would be “extremely unlikely” that coal development would be permitted on the alpine slopes and “there would be no future development in the alpine zone of the east slopes”. He also stated that sub-alpine areas with remarkable natural beauty and valuable wildlife habitat were considered worthy of saving from industrial disturbance.
In July, the Alberta government introduced a limited development policy for the Eastern Slopes with the intent of preserving at least 70% of those lands in a natural state. Environment Minister David Russell announced a multiple land use policy asserting that coal exploration and development would be subject to high standards of environmental protection and reclamation.
The Environment Conservation Authority submitted over 200 recommendations to the government. Work begins on the development of a provincial Coal Policy.
In January, McIntyre Mines applies to Energy Resource Conservation Board (ERCB) for a permit to develop and operate an open pit coal mine on Caw Ridge, designated as McIntyre Porcupine No. 9 mine. No. 9 mine is stated as having the best coking coal in Canada.
Responding to calls for protection of the wilderness, the Alberta government placed a moratorium on new industrial developments in the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains while the Environment Conservation Authority conducted a series of public hearings on land use and resource development in the area.
The Energy Resources Conservation Board, now known as the Alberta Energy Regulator, established a Coal department in late 1971. Using the geological data from old mines and data submitted by coal exploration companies, the coal reserves were calculated in the coal fields and coal deposits throughout Alberta. The Reserves of Coal, Province of Alberta report was published in December 1972. With that, the Government of Alberta knew that the province had plenty of coal.
The Alberta Research Council began to address challenges of reclamation, and the Environment Conservation Authority was created and later issued a report on the environmental impact of surface mining.
McIntyre Coal Mines Ltd. opens the Smoky River mine field to serve Japanese customers and meet demand. The field is estimated to support 353 million tonnes of coal. 11 coal seams are identified ranging in thickness from 2-3 feet to 25 feet thick. McIntyre Porcupine Mines Ltd. is granted a mining permit for mining on Caw Ridge. The Town of Grande Cache is developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s to accommodate the 1,500 workers at McIntyre Mines Ltd.
Coleman Collieries Ltd. signed a fifteen-year coking coal supply contract with Japanese steel mills. The demand by Canadian and foreign coal mining companies for coal leases and for permits to explore potential coking coal deposits grew quickly. Coal exploration projects ranged in size from geological prospecting and mapping with no surface disturbance to exploration requiring bulldozing of access roads, often cut into steep slopes, excavation of trenches to expose coal outcrops, leveling drilling sites, and occasional tunneling or digging of a large pit to obtain bulk samples from prospective seams. Both the public and government officials, especially forest service personnel, become aware of these activities, and concern about damage to the natural environment and worries if reclamation of mined lands will be possible grew quickly.
Japan’s steel production more than quadrupled between 1960 and 1970. Canadian coking coal fields of Alberta and British Columbia attracted the attention of Japanese steel mills resulting in the opening of new mines in Sparwood, BC, and in Grande Cache, Alberta.
West Canadian Collieries opened the Grassy Mountain surface mine only to shut it down after six years of operation. In Crowsnest Pass only three mines remained in operation past 1950; Vicary Creek, Racehorse and Tent Mountain.
With the discovery of oil in Leduc, oil takes over from coal as the province’s primary source of energy resulting in an industry bust time.
Surface mining begins in the Cardinal Divide area with underground mining ceasing entirely, echoing a movement across the province from underground to surface mining.
The onset of World War II resulting in an industry boom.
Coal mining and export in Alberta experiences a significant decline with the onset of the Great Depression. Working and other economic conditions lead to the emergence of local government with strong Communist sympathies in the Crowsnest Pass in 1932-1936. A high-quality coal seam in discovered in Canmore in 1938, leading to the formation of Canmore Mines Ltd. WWII energy needs see a re-expansion of Alberta’s coal industry.
The original underground mine at Luscar in the Cardinal Divide opens.
The town of Coleman in the Crowsnest pass is established by the International Coal and Coke Company, built to supply a new source of coal to fuel their copper-smelting operations in British Columbia. The underground Bellevue Mine of West Canadian Collieries was developed and operated almost six decades, from 1903 to 1961.
The onset of World War I resulted in a boom period for the coal industry.
The Galt Mine, Alberta’s first large-scale mine, opens in 1882, near Coalbanks, later renamed Lethbridge. A number of other mines opened in the valley of the Crowsnest River between Lundbreck and Coleman, in what is now the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Canmore, Edmonton, Black Diamond, Nordegg-Brazeau, Mountain Park and Cadomin and in Coal Branch south of Hinton through the 1880s. Larger mines start opening in the 1890s in the Crowsnest Pass. Coal quickly becomes the primary source of energy in Alberta. Some of these mines lasted only a few years but many immigrants coming to Western Canada were finding jobs with mines producing coal to heat homes and to feed “iron horses” on the railways.
The first commercial coal mine in Alberta is established along the banks in the Belly River in Lethbridge in the mid 1870s.
Coal is recorded as being used by blacksmiths at Fort Edmonton as early as the 1840s.
The first published record of coal in Alberta appears in the journal kept by Peter Fidler, a surveyor and mapmaker working for the Huson’s Bay Company. Fidler first recorded a coal seam in the Red Deer River Valley at Kneehill Creek, near what is now Drumheller.