A retired provincial fisheries biologist is urging Clearwater County to take a vocal stand against coal development near Nordegg.
Vance Buchwald is presenting a report to county council on Tuesday that outlines numerous studies showing coal development causing environmental damage and species degradation.
Buchwald said he knows Clearwater County doesn’t have the authority to deny coal leases approved by Alberta Energy, or coal projects which would be regulated by the Alberta Energy Regulator.
“I understand that the county is not the decider” — but somebody has to provide the roads and other infrastructure needed for coal development and hopefully it wouldn’t be county taxpayers, he added.
Buchwald, who lives near Nordegg and enjoys the wilderness, plans to tell Clearwater County councillors that tourism is much more financially and environmentally sustainable over the long run than coal mines.
He believes the county — which had pegged eco-tourism for the Nordegg area in its economic development plans — should be very concerned that four out of five development hubs located on Highway 11 west, towards the Banff National Park boundary, have coal leases either directly next to them, or adjacent.
Buchwald is presenting studies that show coal mining exposes selenium and other contaminants, which can leech into water and cause reproductive issues for birds and fish. “It isn’t good for people either,” he noted, as the headwaters of rivers used for drinking water are located in this area.
The biologist knows populations of threatened bull trout, as well as harlequin ducks and grizzly bears, would be “easily disturbed” by that kind of contamination.
“We talk a good line about preserving the environment, but the government … makes decisions based on economics,” he said.
Even economically, Buchwald doesn’t see a long-term advantage to coal mining, since the large Chevriot coal mine near Hinton recently was closed due to a lack of markets for metallurgical coal.
Buchwald noted more green technologies are now being used to develop steel. The coal method is blamed for causing seven to nine per cent of global greenhouse emissions.
Last week, Alberta Energy Regulator stated neither Black Eagle Mining Corp.’s Blackstone coal project or Ram River Coal Corp.’s Aries project, near Nordegg, yet have submitted development applications for mines.
Previously-approved coal exploration program and a deep-drill permit that were granted to the proposed Aries project have both expired, according to the AER.
And Ram River Coal hasn’t submitted any applications for exploration or development in three years, stated Tonya Zelinsky, the AER’s communications specialist.
Buchwald remains concerned, having read on online mining website that the Blackstone project is expected to start mining by 2023, after 18 months of construction. Whether that timeline is realistic, given that no development application has yet been submitted, remains to be seen, he added.
The Alberta government has, meanwhile, committed to holding wide-spread public consultation on future coal projects.