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LETTER: Leave the metallurgical coal in the mountain

"I for one would rather stake my economic interest in industries that bring multi-generational economic returns than trade it off for a transient industry that diminishes future economic opportunity."
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Ken Allred ("Ole King Coal," Feb. 3 Gazette) paints an interesting picture in his commentary to back up his opinion that Alberta can balance the economy and environmental restrictions with coal mining. Who would not be lulled into believing coal is not as dirty as it sounds when you have bighorn sheep, elk and deer grazing in meadows?

Except those lands used to provide more than grass. Before mining, they were covered in a tapestry of vegetation and biodiversity unique to mountain and foothill. Watercourses ran through them, often with fish, and they provided a landscape much sought after by a public interested in outdoor recreation.

Regardless of the Alberta government’s Feb. 8 decision to reinstate the 1976 coal policy, there are ample reasons why Alberta should keep its metallurgical coal in the ground. Extraction of non-renewable resources like coal, oil and gas is cyclical. It means activity comes to an end when the costs of extraction exceed economic returns. Consequently, Alberta has its ugly mountain scars at Grande Cache, Obed Mountain, Tent Mountain, Nordegg, Cadomin.

Many Albertans have never had the opportunity to see these first-hand, which is unfortunate. So Albertans do not know what has been given up in return for jobs that may last 10 to 20 years in return for many decades of reclamation. Nor do they likely see the ugly scars that now criss-cross alpine terrain above timberline as a result of past and current coal exploration. And waters leaving many of these former mountain coal sites may look alright, but they often carry a hidden  contaminant – selenium – in quantities that exceed sometimes many times accepted levels for human and animal use.

These metallurgical coals and the mines exist at the headwaters of rivers that flow east through Alberta into Saskatchewan and Manitoba. They provide needed high-quality water to many communities along their way. Metallurgical coal extraction in Alberta’s mountain-foothill landscapes radically transforms mountain and foothill into at best grassy slopes. Gone are the vistas and character of a forested mountain slope and alpine meadow in favour of contoured ledges, barren flat rock walls and contaminated watercourses.

Reclamation is not a cure-all. I for one would rather stake my economic interest in industries that bring multi-generational economic returns than trade it off for a transient industry that diminishes future economic opportunity. I say, keep metallurgical coal in the ground!

Ken Crutchfield, St. Albert