A review panel for the Alberta Energy Regulator has denied the provincial application for the Grassy Mountain Coal project, ruling the project is “not in the public interest.”
“The panel’s decision reflects the AER’s commitment to making evidence-based and risk-informed decisions in the public interest,” said Laurie Pushor, president and CEO of the Alberta Energy Regulator, in a release.
In a statement, Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon said they respected the panel’s recommendation.
“All proposed coal projects are subject to stringent review to ensure development is safe, environmentally responsible and meets all requirements,” the statement reads.
“In this case, the process worked as it should. The panel’s recommendation demonstrates that Alberta’s legislative and regulatory framework is robust and thoroughly considers environmental impacts as part of any resource development project.”
Project was in the works for years
Communities in the Crowsnest Pass were built around coal mining more than 100 years ago and the industry was the area’s lifeblood for most of the 20th century.
Several major coal mines still operate just to the west, in British Columbia’s Elk Valley, but the region’s last mine on the Alberta side of the border closed in 1983.
The plan for the proposed Grassy Mountain project, located roughly seven kilometres north of Blairmore, was to pick up where a previous mine had left off. A section of the 1,500-hectare site has already been disturbed by previous mining activity decades ago.
Australia-based Riversdale Resources submitted a proposal to regulators in 2016 for the project, which it estimates could produce 4.5 million tonnes of steel-making coal annually over the mine’s 23-year lifespan.
The company estimates this would have created nearly 400 full-time jobs.
Other Australian coal companies had been watching closely, as they ramped up exploration and drew up plans for mines of their own.
“I would say the industry is looking to the success of Riversdale’s project, because it’s the first in the Crowsnest Pass area,” Atrum Coal’s then-CEO Max Wang told the Calgary Herald in 2018.
“There are quite a number of global investors, mostly from Australia, interested in that region … but they are very much looking to the success of Grassy Mountain.”
The difference in coal-mining activity between southwestern Alberta and southeastern B.C. dates back to Alberta’s Coal Development Policy, which was adopted by premier Peter Lougheed’s government in 1976 with the dual goals of increasing government royalties and protecting sensitive lands.
The UCP government rescinded that policy last year, sparking a backlash from a wide range of Albertans, including environmentalists, ranchers and tourism operators.
In February, the government backtracked and re-instated the Lougheed-era policy for the time being, pending further consultation.