Medicine Hat News
Any coal mining on eastern slopes will affect the Hat
Open pit coal mining set to take place on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains could have serious effects on Medicine Hat’s water quality, a local biologist says.
Brent Smith, an instructor at Medicine Hat College, is launching a new program based around sustainable agriculture for the 2021 school year.
He says coal mining projects that will take place hundreds of kilometres away could very well have serious consequences for water quality in southeast Alberta.
“This could certainly affect the quality of water coming out of the mountains,” said Smith. “The biggest problem with these coal mines is that they leak selenium — a heavy metal. The concentration of selenium downstream from these mines is not safe for humans.
“Since we would be downstream from these projects, it could very well affect us in
The Alberta government created a coal policy in 1976, which restricted open pit coal mining in the Rockies. Land was put into four categories, each with their own rules and restrictions.
The United Conservative Party repealed the policy ahead of the 2020 May long weekend, but held a press conference Monday announcing it would reinstate protections outlined in the rescinded policy. However, Smith says some of the leases handed out are not being cancelled.
“If you look at the coal policy that was just brought back, the UCP said they would close the door on Category 2 for open pit mining,” said Smith. “The problem is that it still leaves to door open for Category 4 mines, which there are in the mountains. As far as I understand, there are some around the Old Man (River) watershed.
“If there’s any developments around the Old Man, which we are downstream of, it has potential to affect us.”
Latasha Calf Robe is a member of the Blood Tribe, which will be impacted by the Grassy Mountain Coal Project, an open-pit expansion north of Blairmore, in more than one way.
“This is a disaster for everybody,” she said. “There’s no place where this makes sense, especially if we look at the areas where these mines would be located.
“Open-pit mining, mountain top removal, strip mining — they’re all the same thing, no matter what the UCP government says.
“They all result in hundreds of feet of mountain tops being removed and large areas being exposed to toxic minerals.”
She says these mines do not respect Indigenous rights.
“From the perspective of Indigenous rights, this is a violation of our religious rights and freedoms,” she said. “These mountain areas hold so much culture for us and they cannot be separated from the Niitsitapi. We are the land and the land is us.
“By attacking and destroying the land, it is a direct attack on us. We have Treaty Rights to fish, hunt and gather in our traditional territories, which includes the eastern slopes.”
Smith says selenium is not something humans can work around right now.
“I work in reclamation, and right now with current technology, there is no way to deal with heavy metals like selenium that end up in our surface waters,” he said.
He says the risk-to-reward ratio is too far off. “Why in Alberta are we resorting to such risky projects?” he said. “The science shows us that we cannot fix this if something goes wrong — why is this government willing to do this? Are we really going to scrape the bottom of the barrel for these resources?
“These are the riskiest projects. They have the highest likelihood of failure. They’re capital intensive. They don’t provide many jobs.
“It’s clear this is the direction the UCP wanted to go, but I think at the very least, the public should get a say in this.”
Smith says this is a cause people should be aware of.
“The thing is, this isn’t for Albertans. The coal is going elsewhere and will not be used in Alberta,” he said. “When you look at how these companies operate around the world, they’re trying to lower costs. They can do that by lowering labour costs.
“Rather than using humans for a lot of these jobs, they’re going to use robots.”