Unearthing the impacts of coal exploration in Alberta

Coal in Alberta isn’t over – the vast industrial footprint left by exploration activity continues to damage both lands and waters, and there is currently no plan for reclamation.  

The ecological damage wrought by coal mines is not limited to the large, open-pit mines scarring our landscape. In fact, before mines even enter the approvals stage of a project’s lifespan, companies are allowed to preemptively construct roads and drill-sites to prospect for coal deposits. 

When the Government of Alberta rescinded the 1976 Coal Policy in 2020, multiple coal companies were approved to construct over 700 drill-sites and more than 250 kilometers of new roads in the Rocky Mountains. These roads and drill-sites have not yet been reclaimed. 

While the government’s March 4, 2022 announcement paused coal development, pending the completion of land-use planning, these exploration scars remain on our landscape – a giant industrial footprint that continues to damage both lands and waters. The longer these features go unreclaimed, the more impact they will have. What’s more? There is currently no clear plan or direction to immediately reclaim this damage

Reclamation is critical – the impacts of exploration on the landscape are ongoing and far-reaching:  

  • Increased erosion and decreased water quality (including our drinking water);  
  • Decreased habitat quality for threatened native trout;  
  • Fragmented habitat and barriers for wildlife movement across the landscape; 
  • Disturbance of sensitive habitats such as fescue grasslands and alpine areas; 
  • Damage to sites of cultural and historic importance to Indigenous Peoples from Treaties 6, 7 and 8; 
  • Creation of private access to public lands; 
  • Decreased ecological function with impacts other sources of livelihood such as recreation, tourism, and ranching.  

Companies are also not required to post a reclamation bond for exploration activities. Given the uncertainty of future coal activities in the province, Albertan taxpayers cannot be left to foot the bill for cleanup.

Write to the Minister of Energy and the Minister of Environment today to demand a plan for coal companies to immediately reclaim the damage done by exploration activities.