The historic ranching landscape of the Porcupine Hills is shown about 35 kilometres southwest of Claresholm, Alta., on Saturday, March 13, 2010. An environmental group says impacts from coal mining exploration approvals are already past legal thresholds for parts of the Rocky Mountains. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Coal exploration approvals already exceed legal road thresholds, data suggests

Coal exploration approvals already exceed legal road thresholds, data suggests

EDMONTON — Road-building approvals for coal exploration already exceed legal limits in some parts of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains and foothills, suggest documents from the province’s energy regulator.

“It’s part of why we are calling on this government to stop all exploration … until we have a new plan in place that actually directs the future of this landscape,” said Katie Morrison of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

Albertans are waiting for details on how the United Conservative government plans to consult with the public on coal-mining, which the province says would help diversify the economy.

The region where exploration leases have been sold is home to endangered species and holds the headwaters of much of Alberta’s drinking water. Exploration and potential mines are opposed by area First Nations, municipalities, ranchers and many others.

Morrison’s group took applications approved by the Alberta Energy Regulator for six coal companies planning road-building, drilling and other activities in the Livingstone public land-use zone on the eastern slopes. The plans were plotted onto maps, then toted up.

New roads, rebuilt old roads and roads that companies might use to get to their leases, when combined, average almost 1.5 kilometresfor every square kilometre of land.

Work done over three years by a government-appointed working group on the Livingstone land-use plan concluded that public and industrial roads in the area should be no denser than 1.2 kilometres for every square kilometre. In the most sensitive areas, the restriction is one kilometre.

The limits were adopted in 2018 and remain legally enforceable under Alberta’s Land Stewardship Act.

“Even during this exploration phase, the limits that have been put in place with great public consultation and great public input are just totally ignored as (regulators) approve these exploration permits,” Morrison said.

Alberta Environment was provided with the wilderness society’s research.

Alberta Energy spokesman Kavi Bal said the government was unable to comment on the road density findings. All exploration is subject to cleanup timelines, he said.

“Coal exploration programs are authorized by the AER through coal exploration permits, which are issued on a five-year basis,” he said. “This period includes two years to complete exploration followed by up to 3 years for reclamation work and reclamation certificate application.”

Energy Minister Sonya Savage said last week that Albertans will be asked if they want coal development at all. Morrison wonders how the high level of disturbancethe applications suggest can be reconciled with the upcoming consultations.

“If that is a foretelling of what this next consultation period looks like, it doesn’t give me much confidence.”

She also pointed out any potential effects on the land are on top of trails and other disturbances already created by off-highway vehicle users.

The further along coal companies get, the harder it will be to bring in land-use plans and to reclaim damaged areas, she suggested.

Others question how the exploration footprint would be cleaned up.

“Coal exploration happens on steep slopes, on mountainsides and on mountaintops,” said Lorne Fitch, a longtime fisheries biologist and adjunct professor at the University of Calgary.

“Some of them are such steep slopes that unless you’ve got a tracked backhoe, it’s very difficult to drag that material back upslope to recontour the old surface. And in … doing that, you actually damage more of the landscape.”

Mountainside soils are only a few centimetres thick and are easily dispersed, he said.

“To suggest that you could actually get something to grow on that afterwards is a leap of faith.”

Fitch asked the regulator if it collects security deposits to ensure exploration work is remediated.

“The AER does not collect any bonds or security for (coal exploration projects),” responded chief operating officer Martin Foy.

Companies are required to restore what they have disturbed although details vary, Foy wrote in a letter.

Foy said enforcing limits on development is Alberta Environment’s job.

“The (regulator) does not have requirements pertaining to linear density of roads,” he wrote. “(Alberta Environment and Parks) is responsible for implementing the … plan and managing the footprint allowance within the plan area.”

In the Alberta legislature Wednesday, New Democrat Opposition Leader Rachel Notley questioned Premier Jason Kenney on the research.

“Will you commit to ending coal exploration today, as Albertans have demanded?” she asked.

Kenney said Alberta’s coal mining policy hasn’t changed since when Notley was premier from 2015 to 2019.

He called the research, as well as Fitch’s concerns, “a farrago of made-up facts.”

Alberta’s public consultations on coal mining are to begin next Wednesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2021.

— Follow @row1960 on Twitter

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

coal mine

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Ethan Rowland battles with Medicine Hat Tigers forward Brett Kemp during WHL action at the Centrium Saturday night. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers claw back, hand Rebels 11th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 The same old issues continue to plague the… Continue reading

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
AstraZeneca-linked blood clot confirmed in Alberta

A case of an AstraZeneca-linked blood clot has been confirmed in Alberta,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Ontario Premier Doug Ford points on a COVID-19 caseload projection model graph during a press conference at Queen's Park, in Toronto, Friday, April 16, 2021. Ontario was set to backtrack on controversial new police powers to enforce stay-at-home orders implemented in the battle against COVID-19.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ford backtracks on new police COVID-19 powers amid intense backlash

TORONTO — Furious criticism of new anti-pandemic powers that allow police in… Continue reading

The official program for the National Commemorative Ceremony in honour of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, sits on an empty pew prior to the ceremony at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa on Saturday, April 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prince Philip remembered as ‘a man of great service’ during Canada’s memorial service

Canada’s commemorative ceremony in honour of the late Prince Philip offered a… Continue reading

CF Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy speaks to his players during the team's practice Tuesday, March 16, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
CF Montreal puts on a show, defeating Toronto FC 4-2 in MLS season opener

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — CF Montreal, carving open Toronto FC’s defence, cruised… Continue reading

Demonstrators using umbrellas as shields approach a point in a perimeter security fence during a protest over the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during traffic stop, outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, Friday, April 16, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Journalists allege police harassment at Minnesota protests

Some journalists covering protests over the police fatal shooting of Daunte Wright,… Continue reading

A container ship is docked in the Port of Montreal, Wednesday, February 17, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Montreal dockworkers begin weekend strikes as talks drag on

MONTREAL — Dockworkers at the Port of Montreal kicked off a series… Continue reading

Brad Dahr, 53, is facing numerous charges. (Photo contributed by Alberta RCMP)
Alberta man charged for alleged sexual offences against children

An Edmonton man has been charged for alleged sexual offences against children… Continue reading

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Vials containing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni
China, Russia using their COVID-19 vaccines to gain political influence

OTTAWA — China and Russia have been using their locally produced COVID-19… Continue reading

Most Read