October 1st, 2020

Is mining in headwaters worth the risk?


By Submitted Article on August 15, 2020.

Submitted by the Southern Alberta Group for the Environment

For the first time in four decades, headwaters of the Oldman River are again under threat from open-pit coal mining. Expansive scars of coal mines on Tent Mountain south of Coleman and Grassy Mountain mine north of Blairmore, projects that fizzled out by 1980, remain stark reminders of companies that left without cleaning up their mess.

The Alberta Coal Policy adopted by the Lougheed government in 1976 restricted coal exploration and development along the eastern slopes of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains due to “marginal economic benefits” and “important environmental values, such as wildlife migration and headwaters areas.” With the rescinding of that policy by the current government, coal companies are back proposing to reopen and expand surface mining on Tent Mountain and Grassy Mountain and explore large areas of mountainous country west of the Livingstone Range north to the Highwood River.

Coal mining, particularly surface mining in mountains, is one of the most brutal assaults by humans on the Earth. The changes in natural landscapes and headwaters ecosystems are profound. Vegetation and soils that have evolved over millennia are stripped to reveal ancient bedrock. Using explosives and some of the largest machines on Earth, mountaintops are shattered and removed to expose coal seams. “Overburden” is dumped into adjacent valleys. Roads are carved into the diminishing mountain sides to haul extracted coal away in giant trucks to valley bottom processing plants. Water falling as rain and snow that was naturally absorbed by vegetation and soil rushes unchecked and unfiltered to valley-bottom streams that become seriously disrupted by altered flows and contaminants. Resident fish and wildlife are destroyed or displaced for untold generations.

Songwriter John Prine captured the profound sense of destruction and loss that is wrought by mountaintop coal mining in his song “Paradise” – “Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.” To witness the loss of a mountain paradise by coal mining, southern Albertans don’t need to travel all the way to Muhlenberg County, Kentucky but rather can peer across the continental divide into the Elk River and its tributary valleys (including Fording River) in British Columbia. Five massive open-pit coal projects, operated by Teck Resources, have flattened mountains and filled valleys with piles of rubble. Biodiversity has been significantly impacted, including habitats for whitebark pine, Westslope cutthroat trout, grizzly bear and bighorn sheep.

A more insidious impact is the selenium that leaches from the previously buried rock now exposed to air and water. Naturally occurring in soils and plants, selenium is an essential trace element in healthy diets of animals and humans. However, at high concentrations selenium can cause neurological disorders in humans, liver damage and paralysis in other animals, and birth defects and reproductive failure in fish. Waterborne selenium can enter the food chain where it bioaccumulates. Toxic effects of selenium on aquatic life, fish and birds have been documented in the mountaintop coal-mining regions of the Appalachians and more recently the Elk Valley of B.C., extending up to 200 kilometres downstream in Montana. Sparwood’s drinking water supply has become contaminated.

Residents of the Oldman River Basin rely on plentiful, clean water flowing from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains for survival and economic well-being including food production. Southern Albertans value our headwaters region for its scenic natural landscapes, wildlife and unsurpassed outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities. Experience elsewhere confirms that mountaintop coal mining places all that at risk. Albertans in the 1970s, based on experience, decided it was not worth the risk. Why does today’s government think it is?

Share this story:

8
Subscribe
Notify of
3 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Southern Albertan

No! Open pit coal mining in the headwaters of the Oldman River is certainly, not, worth the risk!
What right mind would even consider this? What would the voters who supported the Kenney UCP think, if their water source was jeopardized? Would they keep voting for the UCP if their water got poisoned?
Open pit coal mining isn’t even going to bring in decent $billions/year for this province, since money talks, in the $billions. By comparison, a 3% sales tax, and for sure, a 6% sales tax would bring in more $billions over a period of time. There is still, plenty of money in this province judging by what we’re seeing on the roads, for example…… Audis, Benzes, Infinitis, Porsches, Mustangs, Vettes, RVs and the trucks big enough to tow them, big motorboats, and, new houses everywhere (particularly the $million dollar ones being built in Waterton Lakes National Park)…….along with 8% corporate tax rates and $4.7 billion dollar corporate welfare handouts. Something is really wrong with this whole pciture.

UncleBuck

Southern Albertans, particularly people in Lethbridge don’t care about the environment.

These people have no empathy. No compassion. No foresight. No forethought.

They are only interested in playing games of right or left wing politics. Even these stupid lethbridge herald polls show that.

Whose team you on? UCP or NDP? That’s and money is all these idiots care about. Not the importance of watersheds. Not the importance of life.

Make them money! Pictures of the queen!

Not an ethical bone in their body.

biff

thoughtful letter, and buck is also pretty much on, so looks bleak, especially when we add lax enviro laws.



3
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x