It doesn’t have to be this way

Written by Brenda Schimke

Mining for coal in the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains is alive and well despite what Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Premier Kenney say. Local citizens are regularly reporting the ongoing activities of coal companies preparing to strip mine the Rockies.

The Alberta Government and Australian coal companies have found the loophole, make projects small enough so they don’t fall under federal review, then continue to add multiple small projects until one day the pristine eastern slopes will be permanently marred, safe drinking water will be jeopardized and Kenney and the investors will be long gone.

Premier Kenney assures us we have the most rigorous regulations in the world and nothing untoward will happen to Alberta’s fresh water supply during or after coal mining. 

Look no further than the health of the Athabasca River and the Wood Buffalo wetlands to understand regulations are meaningless without enforcement and Alberta’s record on that score is dismal.

Auditor General Doug Wylie on June 10 released his report card on the government’s environmental liabilities, ergo, how well did regulators succeed at ensuring operators remediated and reclaimed their sites to existing environmental standards? 

In 2015, the Auditor General warned that oil sands mine operators had insufficient cash collected to cover reclamation costs. Five years later, Wylie concluded that no satisfactory progress has been made by the Alberta Government to mitigate taxpayers’ future liability.

The Auditor General said the systems in place at Environment and Parks and Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) lack clarity, funding, priority ranking and processes to ensure that they would be successful. 

Sounds eerily similar to the reason why taxpayers are currently picking up the tab for abandoned well sites.

It was interesting to hear Ron Wallace, chair of the government’s public consultation committee on coal mining in the Rocky Mountains say, “we will absolutely consider why Albertans level of trust in the province’s regulatory bodies is so low.” 

Frankly, Mr. Wallace, that’s not a mystery for any landowner having dealt with AER.

We are delusional if we think coal mining, of any consequence, on the eastern slopes won’t lead to tragic environmental outcomes and remediation costs falling to taxpayers. The real and present danger to our headwaters and future water security should be frightening for everyone.

A joint federal-provincial regulatory panel made that point when they rejected outright the proposed Grassy Mountain metallurgical coal mine in the Crowsnest. They cited that unacceptable environmental risks, especially water contamination, would far outweigh economic benefits.

But that seems not enough to sway Kenney. He continues to work closely with two Australian companies, Atrum Coal Ltd. and Montem Resources Ltd., to circumvent federal regulations and buffer public outrage.

Until recently, metallurgical coal was necessary for steel production. But that, too, is changing. European steel manufacturers have been successfully using green hydrogen, generated from renewable energy sources, to replace coal.

Today, taxpayers are cleaning up orphan well sites, and without regulation and enforcement changes, taxpayers will be on the hook for oil sands cleanup and remediation. 

The likelihood of taxpayers cleaning up abandoned coal mining sites is almost guaranteed. 

On June 19, the Globe and Mail reported that Atrum Coals Ltd. stocks sat at four Australian cents and Montem Resources Ltd. at seven cents. Penny stock companies aren’t capitalized for long-term survival or for putting aside money for reclamation.

Alberta so desperately needs a provincial government with a vision that will shape our future, not just react to it. 

We have so much potential to prosper from the green revolution, but with no vision and weak leadership, the probability of Alberta becoming a recipient of equalization payments, rather than a net contributor, grows daily.


Brenda Schimke

ECA Review

About the author

Brenda Schimke

Schimke is a Graduate with Distinction from the University of Alberta with a BCom degree. She has lived and worked in Alberta, BC and Ontario.