Coal Mining Development and Reclamation
(Updated January 2012)
Coal mining in Alberta has been a long running and significant component to energy production in the province. The goal of the coal mining reclamation program is to ensure that the mined land is reclaimed in a timely manner and has a land capability equivalent to its former use.
What does the indicator show?
This indicator shows the extent of the disturbance and the progress in reclaiming coal mines throughout Alberta from 1999 to 2010. The indicator tracks three elements: the active operational area (including forest clearing, site preparation, mining, plant sites, roads, etc), the area that is under reclamation but hasn’t yet been certified (net reclaimed), and the area that has been certified as reclaimed. The indicator also provides a tool for identifying the progress made in land reclamation once mining in an area is complete.
Trend: Reclamation rates are consistent despite recent increases in the amount of active mine area.
The indicator shows that an area of over 31,000 hectares has been cleared and/or disturbed for coal mining by the end of 2010. Of those 31,000 hectares, over 15,500 hectares (approximately 49 per cent) were either permanently or temporarily reclaimed by the end of 2010. Of the 15,500 hectares, almost 2200 hectares (14 per cent of reclaimed or seven per cent of total disturbed area has been certified as being reclaimed.
The bulk of the reclamation work has been done by the senior operators: Paintearth near Forestburg, Whitewood and Highvale near Lake Wabamun, as well as Tent Mountain, Gregg River and Cardinal River Coals in the Coal Branch south of Hinton
Data for this indicator come from the annual reports submitted by the coal-mining operators to Alberta Environment to ensure the security associated with each operation is adequate for the level of development and eventual reclamation. A new security program (Mine Financial Security Program) came into effect in 2011 to better manage liabilities associated with coal mine reclamation.
What actions are being taken?
Current issues in coal mine operation and reclamation deal with selenium in aquatic systems, regional groundwater hydrology, vegetation and wildlife, wetland compensation and mitigation, as well as increasing demands for recreational access in many of the reclaimed mine areas.
To increase selenium reduction, the province has begun including conditions during the approval renewal process about prioritization and water quality objectives to be achieved within a three-year cycle. In addition, a number of mine operational improvements have been made to improve of selenium reduction, and active treatment approaches are being developed to reduce significant contribution loads.
Increased understanding of the importance of wetlands has led to more reclamation involving wetland construction. This watershed perspective also relates to a more intensive look at regional surface and sub-surface hydrology, and the influence of a reclaimed mine site on watershed integrity. Wetland policy work is currently a departmental focus supporting hydrologic concerns and biodiversity values. Wetland compensation still remains an objective of mine reclamation and concerning the Water Act requirements, a no-net-loss approach is undertaken.
Most end land uses have been for agriculture (cropping or grazing on the prairie mines), or forestry and wildlife for the mountain mines. Population growth and recreational demands for fishing, hiking, camping and other such activities are starting to result in multiple land use objectives for the reclaimed sites. An end land use planning process has been undertaken for the Luscar and Gregg River Mines that considers reclamation values, and multiple land use values including hiking, trail use/establishment and recreational use.
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