Environmental groups and some residents fear a proposed coal mine could unleash toxic metals into the headwaters of the Oldman River watershed relied on by everything from endangered trout to downstream cities. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Environmental groups and some residents fear a proposed coal mine could unleash toxic metals into the headwaters of the Oldman River watershed relied on by everything from endangered trout to downstream cities. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Coal exploration around Alberta parks raises questions about future recreation

EDMONTON — At least five popular recreation areas in southern Alberta are surrounded by coal exploration plans and one of them has been partly given over to an exploration lease, raising questions about their future with lovers of the outdoors.

“We’re not leaving a picnic table and a campground on the precipice of an open-pit mine,” said Katie Morrison of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. “I can’t imagine that(parks) could continue if some of these mining plans go forward.”

A provincial spokeswoman said no development will occur in the parks.

Information released this week by the province shows about one-third of the Oldman North provincial recreation area, a campground north of the Crowsnest Pass, is covered by an exploration lease granted last August to Elan Coal Ltd.

“Any development would require notification to Parks Division,” said a government email. “Any exploration would be expected to avoid any entry into the(provincial recreation area), but you can see that the coal agreement does surround (and enter) parts of the park.”

Morrison notes that Elan’s plans show a mine pit almost on the border of Oldman North.

Maps compiled by environmentalists show four other areas — Livingstone Falls, Honeymoon Creek, Dutch Creek and Racehorse — have become islands in a sea of coal exploration leases.

Exploration typically involves drilling and road building. Mine construction would only happen after regulatory review.

Alberta Environment and Parks spokeswoman Jess Sinclair said the recreation areas are safe.

“No industrial development or exploration will occur within any parks or public recreation areas within Alberta,” she said.

She said the Oldman North lease “lies outside the boundaries of the (recreation area) itself.”

Elan did not respond to a request for information, but its website says the company is committed to good environmental stewardship.

“We acknowledge the potential of our operations to impact water resources and will employ a proactive risk management approach to water management,” it says.

The five recreation areas are popular, said Neil Keown of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. In good weather, the parking lot for Oldman North is full by 9 a.m., he said.

“From the motorized or random camping perspective, that entire region is exceptionally popular. There are hundreds of anglers that descend on that stretch at any given time.”

The Alberta government is promoting metallurgical coal development. It has rescinded decades-old policy blocking activity in a large swath of the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and is reopening water allocation agreements with coal mines in mind. The policy decision is facing a request for a judicial review.

Environment Minister Jason Nixon recently told outdoors blogger and webcaster Michael Short that parks are safe from coal development.

“They’re not being made into coal mines,” he said on Nov. 30. “That’s not happening. There’s strong laws to prevent that and rightly so.”

Morrison wonders.

“(Nixon) either hasn’t looked closely where coal exploration is happening in relation to these parks or he isn’t lining those two things up. We can see very clearly that there’s coal exploration and activity happening right around these places and they will be threatened by coal.”

Research published this week identified the region being explored for coal mining as one of Canada’s environmental “hot spots” — areas that have a high potential for recreation and which offer environmental benefits such as biodiversity and fresh water for millions downstream.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 8, 2021.

— Follow @row1960 on Twitter

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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

Just Posted

Many students and staff at St. Joseph High School are in COVID-19 quarantine. (File photo by JeffAdvocate staff)
St. Joseph High School students return to at-home learning today

Majority of students under COVID-19 quarantine

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters as he walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. Trump is en route to his Mar-a-Lago Florida Resort. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Supreme Court ends Trump emoluments lawsuits

Outcome leaves no judicial opinions on the books

Health-care workers wait in line at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Military to support vaccination efforts in northern Ontario Indigenous communities

Canadian Armed Forces to support vaccine efforts in 32 communities of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s first case

By March a series of measures fundamentally altered how many Canadians live

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

A Shell logo is seen at a petrol station in London on January 20, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Kirsty Wigglesworth
Shell buys European electric car charging firm ubitricity

Experts say easier access to charging facilities key to successful rollout of electric vehicles

FILE— In this Feb. 23, 2019, file photo, Vashti Cunningham poses for photographers after winning the women’s high jump final at the USA Track & Field Indoor Championships in New York. Cunningham is one of the athletes who will be competing in the American Track League, which opens a four-week-long series on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021 in an indoor setting at the University of Arkansas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez. File)
Back on track: Competing, not cash, lures big names to meet

American Track League begins a four-week indoor series at the University of Arkansas

Eugene Levy, left, and his son Dan Levy accept the Best Comedy Series Award for ‘“Schitt’s Creek” at the Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto on Sunday, March 13, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
Dan Levy to make ‘Saturday Night Live’ hosting debut on Feb. 6

‘Schitt’s Creek’ co-creator to host show

Toronto Maple Leafs' Alexander Kerfoot, centre, tries to get the puck past Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom, right, as Noah Hanifin looks on during first period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Morgan Reilly’s three assists lifts Maple Leafs to 3-2 win over Flames

Leafs 3 Flames 2 CALGARY — Morgan Reilly’s three assists helped the… Continue reading

Green Bay Packers' Adrian Amos (31) reacts after intercepting a pass intended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Mike Evans during the second half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Road warriors: Bucs win 31-26 at Green Bay, reach Super Bowl

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ road… Continue reading

People arrive to be tested for COVID-19 at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, January 24, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Too soon to know if Canada’s COVID-19 case decline will continue, Tam says

MONTREAL — It’s still too soon to know whether the recent downward… Continue reading

Most Read