June 23rd, 2024

Northback Holdings’ messaging between the public and officials are at odds

By Lethbridge Herald on June 8, 2024.

Kennedy Halvorson

Your project description isn’t adding up, Northback.

Whatwas pitched to Alberta’s energy regulator as “short-term and small-scale” doesn’t match with what’s been sold to nearby communities. Expected to last “105 days” and remove “approximately 10 tonnes” of coal, Northback’s legal team argued that the “localized, temporary and short” nature of their application to explore Grassy Mountain’s coal deposit means it should advance through the regulatory process without needless delays; there’s no reason to make a fuss with a public hearing.

But if you were to ask some members of the community, the project sounds more like a saving grace — something fit to bring the community long-term economic stability. What gave some nearby community members the impression that Northback’s apparently short-term project will create “high-quality, mortgage-paying jobs” and generate tax revenues? 

Northback touts the public support for their project, particularly from locals, as an indication that the project is in the public interest. And while it’s true that 43 letters of support were filed with the Alberta Energy Regulator, along with a petition signed by 300 people, the support is not unanimous. The regulator also received 126 statements of concern about the project applications, many from local organizations with membership in the thousands.  

The statements of concern focus largely on the environmental impacts of coal exploration. While Northback promises to minimize the adverse effects, a short-term project such as this can still have significant negative consequences. 

Previous coal exploration has left widespread and long-lasting liabilities on Alberta’s landscapes; one only need look at the aftermath of the recission of Alberta’s 1976 Coal Policy in 2020. 

Numerous companies swooped in searching for coal and their efforts still scar the Eastern Slopes. Logging was required to create access roads, which fragmented sensitive habitat. Shallow montane soil became exposed, leading to erosion and colonization by invasive species. Sediment from these roads wash into rivers and creeks with rain and snowmelt, negatively impacting aquatic habitat and watershed health. Subsequent reclamation has been poorly enforced and insufficient to restore the original ecosystem function.

The potential environmental impacts are well-known – what’s unclear are the benefits supportive parties have apparently been sold on. A project less than four months in duration will not have considerable economic impacts or even offer many local employment opportunities, and certainly nothing lasting; summer internships are longer. 

Exploration is also the costly phase of resource development. It requires significant investment and is a well-known barrier to getting mines operational. It does not make money; the assumption is that costs will be recouped during the extractive stage.

And, in any case, Grassy Mountain cannot be mined. Both the federal and provincial governments have jointly decided this location, in the headwaters of the Oldman and in critical Westslope cutthroat trout habitat, is inappropriate for a coal mine and not in the public interest.

So, what are the reasons for local support? Any potential benefits some supporters have lauded would be outcomes of an active mine (although recent research suggests economic benefits of coal mines have been significantly overstated), not an exploration program. 

Northback has made it explicit that their applications “are not for a full commercial mine development”, and “for data collection purposes” only.

What Northback stands to gain from spending time and money exploring a coal deposit they cannot mine is uncertain. What they’ve apparently indicated to the local community and what they are communicating to the regulator and concerned parties also seem to be at odds. Something is being left unsaid and there is information to which not all are privy. This lack of transparency should be concerning to everyone involved.

Kennedy Halvorson is a conservation specialist with Alberta Wilderness Association, who works on issues related to water, mining, species at risk, and the Eastern Slopes.  

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Maybe they will discover a lithium or cobalt deposit and then we will see if there is any objection to the full blown mining of either. This comes straight for, the dirty coal mentality.


Now, finally, their real budget and communications will be accessible to FOIPPA. Hopefully the media will make the effort expose what Kenney and the UCP were trying to hide.

Southern Albertan

The most pertinent mention here is that this proposed mine location is in the headwaters of the Oldman. The importance of headwater streams cannot be emphasized enough with regard to downstream waters, our waters, which we, need, for life itself. Headwaters are the canary in the coal mine, a symbol of risk, if destroyed.
We, today, only need to look to the massive shortage of water in Calgary, as a precursor of things to come, if we all, do not protect our water source, the headwaters.

Last edited 15 days ago by buckwheat

and in the end, far too much of our mining is to support utter greed, via the likes of the military industrial complex, and our rush for unlimited wants, which are entirely “justified” because one has the money to buy ’em up.
the math formula is a simple enough one: the more people on this planet, the less wants we should have; or, at least wants relative to their sustainability. mining is on of our most massive contributors to degradation of land and water; the use of mined products and their discard are another. mix in the chemicals cos, and, voila!, we have the basis of our demise. worse, we have the foundation upon which we routinely underwrite the demise of the health of our necessary healthy and diverse natural systems…let alone all the cancers and other systemic health afflictions that we create. for the love money, because our sloppy, selfish, inhumane footprints have little to show for the love of any god.

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