Grassy Mountain Coal Mine in Alberta’s Rocky Mountain Shot Down
A joint federal-provincial review has denied an application for an open-pit coal mine in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, saying its impacts on the environment and Indigenous rights aren’t worth the economic benefits it would bring. In its 680-page report released last week, the panel questioned the ability of Benga Mining, owned by Riversdale Resources, to control the release of selenium from its proposed Grassy Mountain mine. The report said “In some cases the claimed effectiveness of the proposed measures was overly optimistic and not supported by the evidence. As a result, we are not confident about the technical and economic feasibility of some proposed mitigation measures. We find that this was particularly true for effects on surface water quality, westslope cutthroat trout (and fish and fish habitat more generally), and vegetation.”
The panel criticized Riversdale for using optimistic assumptions and relying on unspecified “adaptive management” measures if problems arose. It said its reclamation plans were vague and pointed out that much of the land wouldn’t be available for reclamation for 25 years after the mine closed. The review panel also concluded the mine would damage ecosystems and impair the cultural and physical heritage of local First Nations, even though most had signed agreements with the mine and didn’t object to it.
The panel advised federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson to turn the mine down. It has also denied the project’s permit applications under provincial laws.
Riversdale first filed its environmental impact assessment on the mine in 2016. Public hearings on the project in southern Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass region were held last fall. The mine, said Riversdale, would create about 500 jobs during two years of construction and 400 over its 23-year life. The company said it would pay CAD 1.7 billion in royalties and CAD 35 million in municipal taxes over that time. It was supported by many in the town of Crowsnest Pass. But concerns were raised during hearings about the chance the mine could contaminate headwaters of the Oldman River with selenium, an element commonly found in coal mines that is toxic to fish in large doses.