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What Is The Issue?

Until recently, open pit coal mining was not a threat to our water system in Alberta. In 1976, a Coal Development Policy was put in place by the Alberta government that protected the very sensitive areas of the headwaters. That policy took 2 years to develop and was created with input from the scientific community and public consultations. It divided the areas of potential interest for coal mining into 4 categories of land. Our headwaters and Rocky Mountains were protected by this policy as they were identified to be in a category of land that was too high risk for this type of activity to take place.  It was recognized there could be no recovery from losing our water source and damage to this environment.

In the spring of 2020, the government of Alberta rescinded this Coal Development Policy with no public consultation or input from the scientific community. This action opened the doors for foreign interests to see business opportunities on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. These (mostly) Australian coal mining companies plan to ship the coal to China to use in the production of steel. 

The headwaters for Alberta rivers (as well as Saskatchewan and Manitoba rivers) are located on these eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. If the headwaters are damaged by the creation of these mines, then all living things downstream will be at risk. The possibility of damage can arise when explosives are used to remove the top of the mountain and create the open pit. This industry uses a great deal of water, and is expected to use up a large portion of this most precious natural resource. Additionally, selenium poisoning of the water is a likely consequence as demonstrated by this type of mining in the Elk Valley, in BC. Selenium is a mineral that is toxic to fish, wildlife and humans when the level is too high. Deformities have already been noted in the endangered Westslope Cutthroat trout  in BC because of selenium poisoning. Community water wells near the BC mines are no longer safe, and the mining company there has been working hard to correct this problem, however, the technology does not currently exist to remove this toxin from the water.  The threat to our water is threefold: damage to the watershed, increased demand on this precious resource, and poison with selenium.

The Alberta government believes this foreign investment will give a boost to our slumping economy, and provide some jobs. The mining project at Grassy Mountain (north of Blairmore, Alberta) is the project that is receiving much of the attention at this time. At peak operation, it is estimated that there may be up to 400 jobs for possibly 23 years, or until new technology offers a better alternative to coal in the making of steel. But at what cost?

THERE ARE SEVERE CONSEQUENCES THAT WILL BE FELT BY ALL ALBERTANS IN ORDER TO BENEFIT FROM THIS SMALL NUMBER OF JOBS OVER A RELATIVELY SHORT PERIOD OF TIME.

These consequences include the following  – all important:

  • Recreational and tourism related businesses will be destroyed. Hiking, camping, hunting, cross country skiing, fishing and many other outdoor activities are at odds with open pit mining and will disappear in these areas. Parks in the region stretching north through the Rockies are threatened as more coal leases are sold.
  • Farms that are dependent on water irrigation systems in arid southern Alberta will be threatened. Crop production is a diverse industry in southern Alberta and operations vary in size from small market operations to large scale commercial farms. All of these operations depend on a source of good water for survival.
  • Our iconic Rocky Mountains will have their tops removed by explosives in the process of locating, exposing and extracting the vein of coal that will be sold to China. Regardless of promises made by the coal mining companies, our mountains cannot be replaced. 
  • The eastern slopes of southern Alberta is ranching country. Cattle graze in the areas that the mining companies plan to exploit. Not only will the lack of (or selenium poisoned) water be devastating to this industry, but the mines will  destroy the actual grazing lands. The process of open pit mining involves removing the top soil and turf. This turf is currently rich with natural rough fescue. It is a hardy, particularly nutritious plant that sustains cattle and wildlife.  However, once this ancient grass is disturbed, it is very difficult (if not impossible) to remediate. 
  • After the turf with the  rough fescue is removed, the top of the mountain is actually removed with explosives. The rubble tumbles down the valley and it is from this rock rubble that the selenium leaches into ground water. Wildlife will no longer be able to survive in the vicinity. Not only is the water they depend on threatened, but their feed as well. The rough fescue that they rely on is important to sustain elk and bighorn sheep through the winter. Roads and heavy machinery will infiltrate the area, threatening wildlife (including the endangered grizzly bear) and push them into areas that are more populated and not suited for their survival. 
  • Health issues will develop from the coal dust. Many Albertans (as well as wildlife and cattle) will suffer the consequences of coal dust taking the place of fresh mountain air.
  • Alberta will be investing in an industry that will negatively impact our reputation for working to reduce impacts on climate change.
  • Our downstream neighbours in Saskatchewan and Manitoba will be negatively affected. Lawsuits from downstream users in the United States are a current reality as a result of the BC mines. Alberta will logically be at risk from lawsuits as well.
  • Coal prices fluctuate and coal mining companies are in the business to make money. When the price of coal drops, the companies will move out. Alberta will be left with unspeakable environmental damage.

The Alberta government has sold coal mining leases that stretch north through the mountains.

The Grassy Mountain Project is the first of many to be considered. 

The risk of this type of mining was too high in 1976 and it remains too high now.

The Coal Development Policy of 1976 must be reinstated. 

Protect Alberta water and Rocky Mountains. Stop open pit coal mining on the eastern slopes.

The Coal Development Policy of 1976 must be reinstated.

What can I do ?

  • Call and email your Alberta MLA
  • Call and email your Federal MP 
  • Contact your town/city Councillor and ask them to take a public position in support of re-instating the 1976 the Coal Development Policy to protect your drinking water
  • Sign the petition (that will go to the Alberta Legislature) at: https://www.stopcrowsnestmines.org
  • Write a letter to the editor of your favourite newspaper
  • Talk to your neighbour or co-workers and help let Albertans know what is happening 
  • Copy a link to an article or website and post it to your social media
  • Make a donation 

Where can I get more information?

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Images Copyright Callum Gunn, eastcherry


Brought to you by a Concerned Albertan

protectalbertawater@gmail.com