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In the spring of 2020, the government of Alberta rescinded this Coal Development Policy with no public consultation or input from the scientific community.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?
- CPAWS response to the Announcement by Alberta’s Minister of Energy, Sonya Savage, on January 18, 2021
- “Morally and ethically wrong”: Court to hear Challenge to Alberta Coal Policy Removal. By: Bob Weber January 17, 2021
- Western Stock Growers Association News: Alberta Mountain Top Removal Open Pit Coal Mining Policy (with links and references) January 2021
- Corb Lund: Mountains, Not Mines by: Corb Lund January 12, 2021
- Alpine Club of Canada: Act Now to Stop The Grassy Mountain Coal Mine by: Brenda Davison January 11, 2021
- Calgary CTV: Coal Exploration Around Parks Raises Questions About Future Recreation by: Bob Weber, January 8,2021
- The Narwhal:Canada’s Ecosystem Hotspots: Rockies, Hudson Bay among areas Flagged for Protection. By Brian Owens January 5, 2021
- Outdoor Canada: Alberta To Allow New Coal Strip Mines that Could Kill Four Blue Ribbon Trout Rivers. By: Kevin Van Tighem January 5, 2021
- The Narwhal: Alberta is Planning New Mountain Top Removal Coal Mines. Here’s What That Looks Like. By: Sharon J. Riley December 20, 2020
- Alberta Awards 11 Coal Leases in SW Alberta for $36 a Hectare. By: Kim Siever December 18, 2020.
- Medicine Hat News Commentary. Letter to the Editor: “First They Come For the Coal…” By: Lorne Fitch December 11, 2020
- CBC: Alberta Government Wants to Rewrite the Water Use Rules Along Eastern Slopes of Rockies. By: Drew Anderson December 7, 2020.
- The Tyee: Threatened By Coal, Rancher’s Take the Kenney Government to Court. By: Andrew Nikiforuk December 7, 2020.
- Alberta Wilderness: Continuing the Sacrifice of the Eastern Slopes to Old King Coal. December 4, 2020
- The Tyee: BC’s Coal Mining Has Failed to Deliver, Finds report. By: Andrew Nikiforuk December 3, 2020
- Alberta Wilderness: Meet the Australian Companies behind the Grassy Mountain Project. November 30, 2020
- CBC: Historic Alberta Coal Community Wrestles With Plans for New Mining. By: Tony Seskus, Robson Fletcher October 27, 2020
- The Lethbridge Herald:The Risks of Surface Mining by Richard Quinlan July 22, 2020
- CBC: Bringing Coal Back by Robson Fletcher, Drew Anderson, & Jordan Omstead. July7, 2020
- APTN: Regional Chief says First Nations Not Consulted as Alberta loosens Open Pit Mining Rules. By: Chris Stewart May 25,2020
- Alberta Views: The Plans to Strip-Mine Coal in the Mountains: A threat to the Eastern Slopes watershed by: Kevin Van Tighem, July1, 2019
- Yale Environment 360: From Canadian Coal Mines, Toxic Pollution That Knows No Borders By Chloe Williams April 1, 2019
- CBC: Alberta’s New Approach to Coal
- The Narwhal: Coal Valley: The story of B.C.’s quiet water contamination crisis – YouTube
- Save The Mountains – David Luff – YouTube
- SaveTheMountains – Plateau Cattle Co. – YouTube
- SaveTheMountains – Our Water – YouTube
- A Hunter’s Perspective: Open Pit Coal Mining in Alberta
- Water not Coal – You-Tube
- Real Talk: Ryan Jespersen. December 30 2020 and continuing in January
- CHQR 770: Danielle Smith
- The Land of Mountain Top Removal – West Virginia 2013 – Smithsonian Channel
- Alberta’s Crown Land Vision – Contradictory with Government action regarding forward movement with Open Pit Coal Mining – November 2020
- How mountaintop mining affects life and landscape in West Virginia – 2017
- How do we mine coal – Open Cut Process
- Background paper on Rough Fescue
- Undermining Australia – Coal vs Community
Images Copyright Callum Gunn, eastcherry