Coal in Canada
Coal reserves in Canada rank 13th largest in the world (following the former Soviet Union, the United States, the People's Republic of China and Australia) at approximately 10 billion tons, 0.6% of the world total. This represents more energy than all of the oil and gas in the country combined. The coal industry generates CDN$5 billion annually. Most of Canada's coal mining occurs in the West of the country. British Columbia operates 9 coal mines, Alberta nine, Saskatchewan three and New Brunswick one. Nova Scotia operates several small-scale mines, Westray having closed following the 1992 disaster there.
In 2005, Canada produced 67.3 million tons of coal and its consumption was 60 million tons. Of this 56 million tons were used for electricity generation. The remaining four million tons was used in the steel, concrete and other industries. The largest consumers of coal in Canada were Alberta and Ontario. In 1997, Alberta accounted for 47% of Canada's coal consumption at 26.2 million tons, and Ontario accounted for 25% at 13.8 million tons. Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick also use coal to generate electricity to varying degrees.
In 2016, The government of Canada decided to phase out the use of coal-fired power plants by 2030 in order to meet its Paris climate agreement commitments. The decision affected 50 communities dependent on a nearby coal mine or power plant for its economy, and 3,000 to 3,900 workers who worked in the 13 power stations and 9 nearby mines that were still active in 2016 across Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Canada exports both the higher and lower grades of coal—metallurgical coal and thermal coal. According to a February 2015 Natural Resources Canada report, in 2013, "Canadian coal exports totalled $5.5 billion." Ninety-three percent of coal exports were the higher-grade coking coal. In 2013 there were only two coal mines in Canada producing the lower grade thermal coal for export—Westmoreland Coal Company's Coal Valley and Hillsborough Resources Limited's Quinsam mine. A third thermal coal for export mining project—the Vista Coal Project in northern Alberta—had received regulatory approval in the 1980s, and again in 2014, but the price of thermal coal had dropped dramatically from 2011 to 2014 and the project stalled. The project was revived in 2015 when American billionaire coal investor purchased Vista. Thermal coal was exported from Vista in 2019.
By 2018, there was an increase global coal prices and improvements in thermal coal mining, which led to an increase in coal mining activity. Most of Canada's coal reserves are located in Alberta.
Coal was first mined in Canada in 1639 when the first mine was opened in Grand Lake, New Brunswick. First Nations would identify deposits, and the mined product would be used for tasks such as burning and trading. During the New France period, a large mine was built in Cow Bay, Nova Scotia, on Cape Breton Island, to supply to Louisbourg fortress.
In the late 18th century, industrial mining begun in Canada, which helped propel Canada's industrialization. Infrastructure for its transportation and shipping was built. Cape Breton supplied Boston and other American ports in Coal and had 21 coal mines by 1871, but they were all abandoned in the early 20th century.
In Western Canada, coal was first mined on Vancouver Island in the mid-19th century. The development of the Canadian Pacific railway led to mines being built in towns along its route in Alberta. By 1911, Western Canada was producing most of the country's coal, and Alberta was the country's largest producing province.
Working in Canadian coal mines was very dangerous. Deadly mine disasters occurred in multiple locations, including Hillcrest, Alberta and Springhill, Nova Scotia. Harsh working conditions in Coal mines and coal-powered factories led to the establishment of Canada's trade union movement. Major coal strikes occurred in Cape Breton in the 1920s and Estevan, Saskatchewan in the 1930s.
Following the Second World War, economic sectors that previously used coal such as domestic heating, industrial energy, and transportation energy started using petroleum. However, Canada's coal production remained relevant due to the exportation of metallurgical coal to Japan. Following the 1970s energy crisis, Canada's coal production grew rapidly as it became more cost-competitive and new export markets emerged in other Asian countries.
In 2016, "mining, processing, and related services from thermal and metallurgical coal contributed an estimated $4 billion to Canada's economy, or roughly 0,2%. of Canada's GDP," according to Natural Resources Canada. NRC reported that about 50 percent of this "GDP contribution came from metallurgical coal" and, in comparison, "clean energy accounted for 1.3% of Canada’s GDP."
Coal in Alberta
In 2018, coal mining in Alberta accounted for $10 million in royalties for the province, according to Alberta Energy's Coal and Mineral Development Unit's "2018 Year in Review". In 2018, Alberta's coal production totaled approximately 20 million tonnes. Coal production had reached a peak 2016−approximately 25 million tonnes, representing about $20 million in royalties.
Coal formations in what is now the province of Alberta, originated approximately 140 and 65 million years ago. The collision between the two immense plates had pushed up the Rocky Mountains while depressing the North American continent's interior. New layers of growth crushed and buried layers of peat, shale, and sandstone, compressing them into coal beds. The oldest coal deposits were pushed closer to the surface about 80 to 55 million years ago, forming part of the Rocky Mountains's foothills and Front Ranges.
The coal beds that lie under the prairies is an inferior, impure grade, which is not capable of firing blast furnaces essential to steel-making. The Coalspur Formation in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin in the foothills of southwestern Alberta, has large quantities of high-quality coal. The Coalspur Formation runs from south of the Wapiti River to the North Saskatchewan River. The Coalspur coal zone is about 120 metres (390 ft) to 200 metres (660 ft) thick.
The Siksika —Blackfoot and the Kainai—Blood people, called an area on the banks of the Oldman River the Sik-ooh-kotoki or "place of the black rocks." This was the site of the first commercial coal mine, opened in 1874 by an entrepreneur from New York City.
In 1976, the Progressive Conservative government under then Premier Peter Lougheed restricted open-pit mines in most of Alberta's Rocky Mountains and Foothills through the Coal Development Policy. Alberta's last open pit mine closed in 1983.
Coal mines closed in the Crowsnest Pass, Canmore, Nordegg, and Grande Cache, among others.
According to Alberta Energy's 2018 ' Review, there was an increase in bituminous coal mining activity following a decrease for several years. In 2018, mining operations have restarted, new greenfield operations began, and new mining projects were proposed. According to the Review two major factors contributed to the increase in coal mining activity−an increase in global coal prices and recent improvements in thermal coal.
By 2019, the Grande Cache mine reopened.
Vista Coal Project
The Vista Coal Project, just east of Hinton, Alberta, has been described as the largest thermal-coal-for-export project in Canada, and perhaps the largest in North America . According to JWN Energy, the Vista Coal Project has a "surface area of 9,984 hectares" with a potential to provide more than 350 full-time jobs. The Government of Alberta 2020 website lists the $CDN 650-million dollar Vista Coal Project completed in 2019—the "construction of a thermal coal mine and a coal processing plant and drying facility" [for thermal coal that would be] primarily for export to Asia". The Cline Group were the developers for the project. In February 2015, the American billionaire coal investor Chris Cline—who established K.C. Euroholdings (KCE)—acquired Coalspur Mines Ltd. "for 2¢ per share". This represented less than 2% of the Coalspur Mines's value in 2020, when it began trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX).
Although the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB)'s had approved the Vista Coal Project in 1982, when then owner for Manalta Coal had submitted their application, and the approval had remained valid, it was stalled for many years. In 2011, the global price of thermal coal had reached a high of US$141 per tonne. But by 2015, it had decreased to US$66. While Bighorn Mining's Vista Coal Mine had received regulatory approval in 2014, construction did not get underway, because the global prices for thermal coal had dropped significantly. In March 2015, Coalspur Mining Ltd spokesman said that the company had struggled to "raise the $445 million in equity needed to build Vista". Coal analysts said in 2015, that with Chris Cline's "better-capitalized ownership" was a "positive development for Vista." The Vista Coal Project, began operations in 2019.
In 2019, Bighorn began shipping coal to export markets.
Grassy Mountain Coal Project
In 2014, Benga Mining Limited (Benga)—a wholly owned subsidiary of the Australian mining company, Riversdale—began the approval process for the joint federal–provincial environmental review to construct and operate the Grassy Mountain Coal Project. The proposed 2,800-hectare mountain top removal open-pit metallurgical coal mine is located near the Crowsnest Pass, just north of Blairmore, Alberta in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It would have a 25-year lifespan and its annual production capacity is estimated at 4.5 million tonnes of coal. Until July 2020, the area was protected as Category 2 land under the 1973 Coal Policy. Hearings begin in October 2020. 
Benga Mining and Riversdale Resources are subsidiaries of Hancock Prospecting Pty owned by Gina Rinehart, an Australian mining magnate, who is also the wealthiest person in Australia. The three companies are interested in mining Grassy Mountain coal.
On 1 June 2020, Premier Jason Kenney rescinded the 1976 Coal Policy and lifted the restrictions on coal mining exploration and development on 3 of the 4 categories of land based on environmental sensitivity. The UCP's new policy would only protect Category 1 land from coal mining exploration and development. Included in Category 2 which are lands that are "moderately to highly environmentally sensitive" is Mount Livingstone Range. According to Alberta Views, global investors—mainly from Australia—are interested in the region and are following the review process closely.
Coal in British Columbia
In 2019, coal sales reached $5.08 billion US, making coal the province's "most valuable mined commodity". About 85% of B.C.'s coal is a higher grade of coal, known as metallurgical coal or coking coal. It is used to produce good-quality coke. which is essential in blast furnaces used to make steel from iron ore. Most coal from British Columbia mines is exported on the international markets through coal ports near Vancouver or Prince Rupert.
Major coals mine fields in the province include a field in the Kootenay Mountains in southeastern B.C., and Peace coalfields in northeastern B.C. British Columbia's largest producing coal field is in Elk Valley (British Columbia), which is located in the Kootenay Mountains, about 60 kilometres from the borders of Montana and Alberta. It has had operational coal mines for over a century. By 2020, Teck Resources owned all five coal mines in that region including Elkford Operations, an open-pit mine just west of the Alberta border with British Columbia.
Transition to natural gas and renewables
In 2003, the McGuinty government of Ontario set a goal of closing all coal-fired power stations, to be replaced with healthier and more environmentally-friendly energy sources, as it was determined that the long-term health problems caused by coal made it twice as expensive as wind energy. According to a 2012 article in the Canadian Biomass Magazine, the OPG Atikokan Generating Station, coal-fired power generation plant, had been in operation for 27 years, when it was shut down in 2012. Work on a $170 million biomass conversion project—the first biomass conversion project in Ontario, was undertaken at that time. It was anticipated that the project would "create 200 construction jobs and help protect existing jobs at the plant" and provide "new economic opportunities for Ontario's forestry sector, which will provide the biomass fuel to the plant". As part of Ontario's phase out of coal-fired electricity generation, the Thunder Bay Generating Station (TBGS)—the final coal plant in Ontario—stopped burning coal in April 2014. The TBGS underwent a biomass conversion to run on advanced biomass—wood pellets. It was recommissioned on 9 February 2015.
In 2016, the Government of Alberta announced the elimination of all coal-fired power stations in the province by 2030. The Government of New Brunswick made the same announcement the following year. Also in 2016, the government of Canada announced the goal of phasing out the use of coal-fired power stations across the country in favour of less polluting alternatives for electricity generation by 2030. In response, companies such as TransAlta and Capital Power began planning the conversion of their coal-fired power stations to burning natural gas.
List of coal-fired power stations
|Battle River||Alberta||540||Heartland Generation||Coal (50%)
Natural gas (50%)
|Belledune||New Brunswick||458||NB Power||Coal||2030|||
|Boundary Dam||Saskatchewan||824||SaskPower||Lignite||TBD [note 2]|
|Genesee||Alberta||1,286||Capital Power (83.3%)
Natural gas (19%)
|H.R. Milner||Alberta||150||Maxim Power||Coal (50%)
Natural gas (50%)
Capital Power (16.7%)
|Lingan||Nova Scotia||620||Nova Scotia Power||Coal||TBD|
|Point Aconi||Nova Scotia||165||Nova Scotia Power||Coke (53%)
|Point Tupper||Nova Scotia||148||Nova Scotia Power||Coal||TBD|
|Shand||Saskatchewan||276||SaskPower||Coal||2030 [note 6]|
|Sheerness||Alberta||780||Heartland Generation (50%)
|Trenton||Nova Scotia||305||Nova Scotia Power||Coal||TBD|
- Unit 4 potentially transitioning to 100% natural gas by 2021. Unit 5 is currently being converted to burning 50% coal and 50% natural gas, and to burning 100% natural gas by 2030.
- Unit 3 will continue to operate as normal as it has carbon capture technology installed. Units 4 and 5 will be retired by 2022 and 2025, respectively. Unit 6 will either have carbon capture technology installed or be decommissioned at an unknown date.
- Units 1 and 2 to burn 50% coal and 50% natural gas by spring 2021 and mid-2020, respectively. Unit 3 to burn 60% coal and 40% gas by spring 2020, and to be adjusted to a 50/50 ratio at a later date. The entire power station will burn 100% natural gas by 2023.
- The 150 MW coal-fired unit will be replaced with a new 204 MW natural gas-fired unit in April 2020.
- To be converted to burning 100% natural gas by 2023.
- Installation of carbon capture technology by 2024 would allow the power station to operate until its originally planned decommissioning of 2042.
- To be converted to burning 50% coal and 50% natural gas by 2022, and to burning 100% natural gas by 2030.
- To be converted to burning 100% natural gas by 2023.
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