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Grassy Mountain Blog

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.

I hope that the following accounts will serve as a permanent record of the hearing and of the issues surrounding the associated proposal to re-introduce metallurgical coal mining to the Crowsnest Pass. In this blog I’ll offer you information and, hopefully, insight into this very consequential public hearing.

– Dr. Ian Urquhart
AWA Conservation Director and Editor, Wild Lands Advocate

May 10, 2024

AWA to participate in the Grassy Mountain Public Hearing

On April 10, 2024, AWA received a Notice of Hearing on the applications for a Coal Exploration Program (A10123772), a Deep Drill Permit (1948547) and a Temporary Diversion License (00497386) submitted by Northback Holdings Corporation at Grassy Mountain.

On April 30, 2024, AWA requested to participate in the public hearing on the applications due to the significant economic, environmental, and societal risks further coal exploration and development poses to the region. AWA intends to participate in an interested expert/advisor capacity, to consolidate and present the latest peer-reviewed literature on the matter and demonstrate how approval of these applications runs contrary to the purposes of applicable legislation. AWA reiterated that Northback’s applications must not be approved by the AER.

On May 9, 2024, Northback responded to the requests to participate, agreeing that AWA should participate, although with limited participation rights. AWA will be able to attend the hearing and provide an oral submission.

As more information becomes available, AWA will keep members updated.

September 21, 2023

AWA’s letter to the Premier and Minister of Energy and Mineral regarding Coal Mining in the Eastern Slopes

Alberta Wilderness Association wrote Premier Smith and Minister Jean on September 21, 2023 to express our concern regarding the ongoing coal mining projects in the Eastern Slopes, including  Summit Coal Ltd.’s Mine 14 and Northback Holdings Corporation’s Grassy Mountain’s recent applications to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). AWA is concerned that Ministerial Order 002/2022, directing AER to implement a moratorium on new coal exploration and development in the Eastern Slopes is at risk of being violated.

Albertans have reiterated time and time again that coal mining is an inappropriate land-use for the sensitive and essential environments within the Eastern Slopes. The Eastern Slopes are the backbone of Alberta’s wilderness. They encompass the vital headwaters of the North Saskatchewan, South Saskatchewan, Red Deer and Oldman rivers, provide essential habitat for wildlife and species at risk, and support the recreational pursuits and livelihoods of many. Applications and plans for coal mining exploration and development threaten the ecological integrity of Alberta’s Eastern Slopes.

Read AWA’s full letter here.

September 21, 2023

AWA’s Statement of Concern regarding Northback Holdings Corporation (formerly Benga Mining Ltd.)’s application to explore Grassy Mountain Coal Deposit

Australian company Benga Mining Ltd. of the proposed (and infamous) Grassy Mountain Coal Mine is back, rebranded as the Northback Holdings Corporation. The company has applied to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) for a deep drilling permit and temporary water diversion license to explore the Grassy Mountain coal deposit.

The Grassy Mountain Coal Mine had been jointly rejected by the federal and provincial governments because of significant adverse environmental impacts in 2021. AER said the project was “not in the public interest.” Alberta’s top courts dismissed all of Benga’s appeals. Finally, there is a moratorium on all new coal development and exploration in the Eastern Slopes.

Northback shouldn’t be allowed to do any exploratory coal work. Coal mining has been deemed resoundingly inappropriate for the region.

Exploratory work is also not without its own environmental impacts and liabilities;

  • Logging is required to create access roads, fragmenting sensitive habitat.
  • Shallow montane soil becomes exposed, leading to erosion and colonization by invasive species.
  • Sediment washes into rivers and creeks during precipitation events, negatively impacting aquatic habitat and watershed health.
  • Reclamation is costly and poorly enforced.

AWA submitted a statement of concern outlining these concerns and more to the Alberta Energy Regulator on September 21, 2023. The full statement can be read here.

November 30, 2020

Meet the Australian Companies Behind the Grassy Mountain Project

Who are Benga Mining, Riversdale Resources, and Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd? These are the three Australian companies aspiring to exploit the coal of Grassy Mountain. Read more »

November 23, 2020

Adequacy?: Whitebark Pine in Benga’s Environmental Impact Assessment

“Adequacy” is a recurring theme in the Grassy Mountain Coal Project Joint Review Panel hearing. Adequacy refers to the substance of Benga Mining Ltd.’s impact assessment. It refers to whether the company has done a good job in detailing the wide range of impacts its project will have; it refers to the company’s details about how it will address those impacts. Read more »

November 15, 2020

Can Benga Deliver On Its Coal Royalties Promises?

             My second post to this blog noted that Benga promises to deliver $1.7 billion in royalties and taxes to the provincial and federal governments. Here I analyze the royalties component. The analysis leaves me puzzled and unconvinced. I simply cannot see how Benga arrives at its conclusion that, on average, Alberta will collect $30 million in royalties from this mining venture Read more »

November 13, 2020

Coal Markets and Grassy Mountain: “If You Build It, Will They Buy?”

            Socio-economics. Before the Joint Review Panel began its Grassy Mountain hearing, I speculated that the socio-economic effects of Benga Mining’s proposal to exploit metallurgical coal would be the company’s strongest suit. Given the range of serious environmental questions that will be raised in the hearing, I thought Benga had to make a strong case for the positive socio-economic effects its ambitions would have for the people in the Crowsnest, for Albertans, and for Canadians. But a strong case only can be built on a foundation of favourable markets for coking coal. If Benga builds its Field of Dreams, will the global coking coal market be strong enough to realize the company’s financial promises?

Read more »

November 8, 2020

Opening Statements at the Grassy Mountain Hearing

The transcripts for the first four days of the JRP hearing totaled more than 900 pages, the product of approximately seven hours a day of presentations and questioning. Here, I’ll identify several noteworthy themes animating the opening remarks of Benga Mining, federal government departments, and intervening organizations and individuals (it’s noteworthy that no provincial department offered such remarks). Read more »

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