the benefits of surface mining discussed

By Lethbridge Herald on October 3, 2020.

Tim kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald

[email protected]

The Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs welcomed Katie Morrison, director of conservation for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Southern Alberta (CPAWS), to its weekly live talk series on YouTube on Thursday.

Morrison warned that the Kenney government’s plans to open more former protected areas for coal mining will have serious consequences for the health of southern Alberta’s headwaters and sensitive ecosystems, the overall health local residents, and will seriously undermine sustainable local economies such as cattle ranching and agriculture. .

The only ones really benefiting from current plans to create new surface mines in the region’s sensitive headwaters, Morrison said, are the billionaires in Australia who run these mining companies and the Asian countries that use coal.

Once the coal is mined from the ground, it will be shipped overseas, mainly to Asian steel markets, ”she said. “Thus, most of the projected economic value will flow out of Alberta and Canada while undermining existing and growing sustainable economies, affecting the livelihoods of ranchers, farmers, outfitters, the recreation industry. outdoor and other land users. “

Morrison recognized that there may be short-term benefits for some Albertans. But future generations, she warned, will face open holes, lost ecosystems and contaminated water where there were mountains.

So what about recovery? She asked rhetorically. “We understand this as a solution to make us feel better. And, yes, they can put back some of the soil, plant herbs and stuff, but we can never actually restore these sensitive grasslands or these alpine ecosystems to what they were before and sustaining the same diversity of life. . And you can’t rebuild a mountain.

Morrison, who worked in oil sands reclamation in the north before moving to the southern Alberta region to take on his current position at SNAP, explained the process of opencast mining operation .

Explosives and machines are used to gain access to the coal deposit, ”she said. “There are various coal seams all over the mountain, and they are removing overburden, soil, and rock, to get to these coal seams. This creates a lot of waste rock which essentially piles up in the adjacent valleys. The water is used to wash the rock and treat the coal, then this water is put into sediment containment ponds. So basically the mountain goes down, the valley goes up, and you end up with a sediment pond often filled with contaminated water.

Morrison said these were the immediate visible impacts of this type of mining, but there were also longer-term health consequences for people working or living near these mines.

Citing a health study from the Appalachian region of the United States where this type of coal mining is more common, Morrison described some of these health risks, including higher rates of cancer, higher rates heart and lung disease, higher rates of kidney disease, rates of birth defects and higher levels of impaired function due to chronic health problems.

It is associated with a host of serious health problems, largely due to dust from silica, sulfur, organic carbon, aluminum, iron, trace elements that people breathe and absorb, ” she explained. “It’s not just the miners who work in the coal mines, it is the communities around the coal mines, whether or not they are involved in mining. Some of these studies show that the economic costs of the health problem in the mining regions of the Appalachians are more than five times greater than the economic benefits of mining.

Morrison pointed out that the UCP government’s cancellation on June 1 of the long-standing coal policy of 1976 was Alberta’s guiding document to open the door to more and more potential mining operations. in southern Alberta.

At the time (the Coal Policy) was created with extensive public consultation to strike the right balance between environmental protection, economic development and the social needs of Albertans, ”she said. “They repealed this policy without any public consultation with Albertans. Although we now know that there were at least seven months to a year to cancel this policy, they were talking to coal companies. “

Morrison said such actions show the current government’s short-sighted view on the issue.

We cannot build a sustainable future by diversifying from one high-risk non-renewable resource to two high-risk non-renewable resources, ”said Morrison. “This does not mean that resources have no place in our economy, present or future, but they must be well regulated, in the right place, offer more benefits than risks and not hinder sustainable growth. . “

Morrison told SACPA viewers live that it was paramount that those who oppose this type of coal development make their voices heard on the issue loud and clear. She said the first battleground for this would be October 27, when Benga Mining Ltd. will appear before a public hearing of the Joint Review Panel to explain why it should be allowed to open its Grassy Mountain mine. The public hearing will be streamed live on YouTube and also streamed live on Zoom. SNAP obtained intervenor status in the case.

Morrison hoped that many Albertans would contact their local MPs, write letters expressing their opposition to the project, and organize various community campaigns and actions to let the Joint Review Panel know that they do not agree with this kind of thing. mining upstream regions of the province.

This is the first project, ”explained Morrison,“ and if Grassy Mountain is approved, it signals to other companies that governments see coal mining as an appropriate use of this (sensitive) landscape. And that makes it more likely that other projects will move forward as well. Simply put, Grassy Mountain is the first domino of coal mining that could forever change the upper reaches of Alberta.

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