Canada and coal

From Global Energy Monitor

Canada is a mid-sized coal producer and consumer. In 2019, Canada produced 55.7 million tonnes of coal.[1]

Coal Resources

According to expert reports commissioned by the World Energy Council in 2011, the country’s reserves included “bituminous coals (including anthracite) 3,474; sub-bituminous grades 872; and lignite 2,236. The corresponding amounts of coal remaining in place from which these tonnages could be extracted are (respectively) 4,651, 3,430 and 13,941 million tonnes. Estimates of the remaining tonnages of coal in place that are considered to be additional to the ‘proved’ or ‘measured’ amounts of each rank total more than 300 billion tonnes. Within this enormous in situ figure, remaining discovered resources add up to 176.5 billion tonnes, of which ‘probable/indicated’ resources total 50.6 billion tonnes and ‘possible/inferred’ 125.9 billion. Undiscovered resources (‘hypothetical/speculative’) are estimated to add another 126 billion. While these figures are necessarily highly approximate, they do serve to underline Canada’s massive coal endowment.”[2]

Canada's coal reserves once ranked fifth largest in the world at approximately 10 billion tonnes, 4% of the world total.[3] This represents more energy than all of the oil and gas in the country combined. The coal industry generates CDN$5 billion annually.[4]

Resource Details

Category Reserve Classification Quantity Units Data Year
BGR Estimate Reserves 6,582[1] million tonnes 2019
BGR Estimate Resources 300,000[1] million tonnes 2019
Geological Survey Reserves 6,582[5] million tonnes 1996
Geological Survey Resources million tonnes 2003
Commercial Reserves Reserves million tonnes
Commercial Resources Resources million tonnes

Coal Production

Coal Mining

Most of Canada's coal mining occurs in the West of the country.[6] British Columbia operates 10 coal mines, Alberta 9, Saskatchewan 3 and New Brunswick one. Nova Scotia operates several small-scale mines, Westray Mine having closed following the 1992 disaster there.[7]

Coal has historically been mined in Nova Scotia, but the last of the province's mines closed in 2001.[8] Devco a crown corporation ran the mines; in 1998, the company was privatized after sinking in billions of dollars of debt.[9] Nova Scotia coal is high in sulfur.[9]

Proposed coal mines

  • Comox Coal Basin - Compliance Energy Corp., owner of Raven Coal, holds coal rights to 29,000 hectares in the Comox Coal Basin. In addition to the underground mines proposed for Fanny Bay, there are plans for an open-pit mine near Cumberland in the Tsable River and Cowie Creek watersheds on Vancouver Island: the 1.8 million tonne per year Raven Mine (Canada).[10]
The University of Victoria's Environmental Law Centre has warned that the mine could turn the Comox Valley into a "mini-Appalachia," with significant damage to the Island's waterways, natural beauty, air quality, shellfish industry and highways. Their research also indicates potential serious impact on the health of people living in the central Vancouver Island area, as well as the neighbouring islands of Denman and Hornby. According to the site map, the tailing piles will be at the headwaters of Cowie Creek, putting the waters below the mine at risk of acid mine drainage.[10]
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is conducting a public comment period on the mine until Sept. 20, 2010.[10]
  • The Quintette Mine, owned by Teck Coal, was previously operated for about 18 years until 2000. Teck is pursuing plans to restart the mine. Feasibility study results are expected to be completed by mid-2011, and the mine could open by 2013.[11]
  • In November 2011, the Canadian government announced a new funding deal among Chinese backers for the $860-million Gething coal mine, a 40-year metallurgical coal mine. Project proponent Canadian Kailuan Dehua (CKD) Mines said it will address both environmental issues and aboriginal concerns surrounding the coal mine in northeast British Columbia. West Moberly First Nation Chief Roland Willson said the Gething project is situated near Hudson's Hope, on top of an area of strong cultural significance. CKD's vice general manager Judy Matkaluk said the Prince Rupert Port is an important gateway for China and can handle additional coal capacity.[12]

Cobalt Coal announces mine expansion in Alberta

In January 2011, Cobalt Coal announced that it was expanding one of its mining operations in Alberta, Canada. The "Westchester Expansion" includes adding approximately 121 acres to the mine. The company stated that Phase 1 Expansion alone will add approximately 600,000 tons of coal resources to the existing 1,200,000 tons of coal reserves currently under lease for a total of approximately 1,800,000 tons. Cobalt stated that they expect an additional 330,000 to 450,000 tons of metallurgical coal is potentially recoverable from the Phase 1 Expansion using both the room-and-pillar and the retreat mining techniques.

Based on a targeted production rate of 7,000 clean tons per month, the Westchester Expansion should add 4 to 5 years of mineable reserves to Westchester Mine’s existing mine life of 6 to 10 years.[13]

Coalbed methane project

In July, 2010 British Petroleum (BP) sold sold its natural gas and coalbed methane business in Western Canada to Apache Corporation as part of a $7 billion deal to raise funds for the company's Gulf of Mexico oil spill costs. The sale marked the end of what was once the country's dominant gas producer. BP sold its planned Mist Mountain coalbed methane development and the $1.34 billion Noel project, which is expected to produce up to 130 million cubic feet a day within this decade.[14]

Coal Consumption

In 2005, Canada consumed 60 million tonnes of coal, with 56 million tonnes used for electricity generation. The remaining 4 million tonnes was used in the steel, concrete and other industries.[7] The largest consumers of coal in Canada are Alberta and Ontario. In 1997, Alberta accounted for 47% of Canada's coal consumption at 26.2 million tonnes, and Ontario accounted for 25% at 13.8 million tonnes. Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick also use coal to generate electricity to varying degrees.[15]

Coal plants

Existing plants

For a map and list of all coal plants in Canada, go to CoalSwarm's Global Coal Plant Tracker and choose Region Canada/US, Map Canada.

Old coal plant phase-out

On June 23, 2010, Environment Minister Jim Prentice said Canada will phase out older coal-fired power plants to cut the country's greenhouse gas emissions, moving toward gas fired plants. The new standards, expected to be firmed up by early 2011, will force electricity producers to phase out older, high-emitting coal-fired plants and require newer facilities to match the emissions of gas fired plants. 33 of 51 of Canada's plants will reach the end of their economic lives by 2025; unless the operators make substantial investments to cut emissions from the aging facilities, they'll be required to shut down. According to Prentice: "Our regulation will be very clear. When each coal-burning unit reaches the end of its economic life, it will have to meet the new standards or close down. No trading, no offsets, no credits." The measure is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the country by 15 megatonnes. Along with the proposed regulations, Prentice also announced the government would contribute C$400 million ($384 million) for its share of a fund set up under the Copenhagen accord to help impoverished countries cope with climate change.[16]

Coal Imports

The two companies import Colombian coal into Canada- Nova Scotia Power (NSP) and New Brunswick Power (NBP), which supply power for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, respectively.[17] In 2007, Nova Scotia Power imported 1.4 million tons of coal from Colombia, most of which came from el Cerrejon mine.[9] NSP will not name its other sources of Colombian company, supposedly because "it would hurt [their] negotiating power."[9] The company's business with el Cerrejon has been publicized by the public.[9]

Nova Scotia Power burned 3.3 million tons of coal in 2007. Of that amount, forty-one percent came from Colombia and thirty-six percent came from the United States (mainly Pennsylvania). [9] The remaining portion was mined in Canada.[9] Colombian coal imports increased in 2001, as the last mines in Nova Scotia closed.[8]

As of 2006, about 16% of New Brunswick's electricity came from Colombian coal.[18]

Coal is transported from Colombia to Canada via Canada Steamship Lines, a company that was formerly owned by Prime Minister Paul Martin.[17]

Coal Exports

Virtually all coal exported by Canada is exported from British Columbia. In 2009 British Columbia exported $4.6 billion worth of coal. Since that time exports have risen. Canada's largest trading partner are Asian markets, accounting for 79 percent of its total coal export revenue. Europe and the Middle East made up a combined 13 percent of coal exports with 8 percent to the Americas.[19] The three main coal export terminals are Neptune Terminals, Westshore Terminals and Ridley Terminals.[19]

As of 2011 Canada was the world’s seventh-biggest coal exporter.[20] BC has proposed 18 new coal mines, and the province is the single largest exporter of coal in North America.[21]

Arch Coal buys 38% stake in proposed Longview Port

On January 12, 2011, Arch Coal stated that it was going to buy a 38% ownership stake in the coal loading facility planned for Longview, Washington. As such, they are the first U.S. company to invest in the project. The $25 million stake in Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview, gives Arch control of nearly 2 million short tons of throughput capacity at the planned facility. Ambre Energy, the Australian-based parent company of Millennium, retained a 62% stake in the terminal.[22]

Arch Coal signs coal-export agreement British Columbia port

On January 18, 2010, Arch Coal signed a coal-export agreement with a port in British Columbia, in the same week it reported buying a 38% ownership stake in a coal loading facility planned for Longview, Washington, both to secure shipping access to Asian markets. Arch Coal signed a five-year agreement to export up to two million tons of coal this year from a port near Prince Rupert, B.C., and up to 2.5 million tons of coal a year in 2012 through 2015. The deal was signed with Ridley Terminals Inc., a port operator owned by the Canadian government with 12 million tons of annual coal-export capacity. International demand for U.S. coal has increased as supplies from Australia--the world's No. 2 thermal-coal exporter after Indonesia--have been disrupted by massive floods in the country's eastern, coal-producing region.[23]

Vancouver British Columbia port to expand its coal export capacity

In late May 2011 Noth Vancouver's Neptune Terminals announced plans to invest in $63.5 million worth of equipment for its coal-handling facility that will eventually add an estimated 50 to 70 jobs to its 250-person workforce. The company stated that most of the investment will go into a new $45-million stacker-reclaimer, a large piece of equipment that takes coal arriving from rail cars, delivers it to coal piles in Neptune's yard, then scoops it back on to conveyers when it's time to load ships at the terminal's berths.[24]

Ridley Terminals plans expansion

It was announced in September 2011 the Port at Ridley Island was planning on doubling it coal carrying capacity to 24 million tons, adding a third stacker and increasing the size of the port by 14 hectares.[25]

2011 report on GHG emissions from BC exports

The BC government plans to reduce emissions by 33 percent from 2007 levels by 2020, yet a 2011 report by Dogwood Initiative, "BC’s Dirty Secret: Big Coal and the Export of Global-Warming Pollution," found the province’s carbon emissions are nearly doubled when you factor in its coal exports, or the BC coal burnt in other countries.

Using the most recent figures available, executive director of the Dogwood Initiative Will Horter calculates that BC coal burnt outside of the province created 54.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2008 alone - the same amount of annual output from 14 coal plants, or more than the combined total of operating coal plants across Canada. The coal reserves in B.C’s proposed and operating coal mines, if burned, would produce 14.8 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, amounting to 6.35 per cent of the total carbon emissions scientists believe humanity can safely emit globally in the next 90 years.

Canada moves to phase out coal

On August 19, 2011 Canada released regulations that analysts said could phase out most of the country's coal by 2050. The new rules apply a stringent performance standard on new power plants, requiring them to emit roughly the same greenhouse gases as natural gas generators. As such, new coal plants won't be able to be built in Canada without Carbon Capture and Storage. It was reported that since carbon capture has never been proven at commercial scale to control coal's emissions, the fate of the fuel in Canada is uncertain.[26]

In November 2011, a study by the nonpartisan International Institute for Sustainable Development calculated that Canada's push to phase out coal-fired power plants in Ontario, introduce carbon taxes in British Columbia and Quebec, and pipe emissions from industry underground in Alberta will cut 31 megatonnes of emissions by 2020, but that Canada's overall federal and provincial programs to cut greenhouse gas emissions will fall far short of meeting the country's 2020 reduction targets. The study suggests Canada is on track to cut 103 megatonnes of greenhouse gases by 2020, 46 per cent of the emissions reduction goal that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has set for the country.[27]

The goals are in tension with the conservative Harper government. In November 2010, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government defeated climate change legislation put forth by opposition parties calling for carbon dioxide emissions cuts of 25 percent from 1990 levels. It had no legal weight but would have pressured the government to explain its lesser emissions reduction target to the UNFCCC.[28]

The Harper government has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 2006 levels by 2020, leading to a 60-70 percent reduction from 2006 levels by 2050. If pegged to 1990 levels, Canadian carbon reductions would amount to a mere 3 percent, critics note. And carbon emissions are currently up more than 35 percent from 1990.[28]

Alberta coal moratorium

The Alberta province is responsible for 65 per cent of the country's coal-fired electricity generation. Coal accounts for 43 per cent, or around 6,300 MW, of Alberta's total generation capacity of about 14,500 MW. In 2015 the province’s NDP government introduced a plan to shutter Alberta's entire fleet of coal-fired power plants by 2030, and replace 50-75 per cent of the retired coal-fired power with electricity generated from renewable sources.[29]

Ontario Phase-Out Program

In 2001, Ontario generated 37,000 Gigawatt hours of electricity from coal.[30] As of 2008, Ontario had four coal-fired fuel stations: Nanticoke, Lambton, Thunder Bay, and Atikokan. Together they account for approximately sixteen per cent of Ontario's generating capacity.[31] In 2007, Ontario's Labor government committed to phasing out all coal generation in the province by 2014. Premier Dalton McGuinty said, "By 2030 there will be about 1,000 more new coal-fired generating stations built on this planet. There is only one place in the world that is phasing out coal-fired generation and we're doing that right here in Ontario."[32]

Opposition to Coal

[Image:J16 tahtlan blockade.jpg|thumb|right|Police at a First Nations blockade of a road leading to the Mt. Klappan coalfields in northwestern British Columbia in July 2006.]]

July 16, 2005: First Nations Mt. Klappan mine blockade

On July 16, 2005, representatives of three British Columbia First Nations tribes - the Telegraph Elders, the Tl’abânot’în Clan, and the Iskut First Nations - blockaded a road leading to the Mount Klappan coalfields in northwestern British Columbia. Tl’abânot’în tribe members had notified the mine's owners, Fortune Minerals, that their mine infringed upon Tl’abânot’în Aboriginal Title and Rights, as the company had failed to consult adequately with the tribe; Fortune Minerals had ignored the tribe's appeals. The blockade was maintained for seven weeks.[33][34][35]

August 30, 2007: Greenpeace stops coal shipment in Canada

On August 30, 2007, activists from the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise boarded a ship carrying coal to Canada's single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, the Nanticoke coal fired power plant in Ontario. The activists boarded the ship, as well as painting the side of it, while being pursued by police boats.[36]

June 23, 2010: Raven Coal Protest, Vancouver Island, Canada

On Wednesday, June 23, 2010 activists from the Wilderness Committee and other concerned citizens gathered in front of Compliance Energy's annual general meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The people were protesting plans by the company to construct the Raven underground coal mine in the Comox Valley. Wilderness Committee Pacific Coast Campaigner, Tri Donaldson listed concerns about mining pollution damage to clean water, which would have a devastating impact on the regions shell fish industry. Also of concern is the huge role that the burning of coal world wide has in worsening climate change.[37]

February 2011: Agreement to protect North Fork of Flathead coal mining approved

It was announced on February 15, 2011 that a deal to protect the North Fork of the Flathead in Montana from mining and energy exploration got final approval at a gathering in Washington, D.C., with Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester and Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer in attendance.

The Nature Conservancy and Nature Conservancy of Canada will contribute $9.4 million to reimburse mining companies for potential loss of revenue. It was also announced that the Canadian government was looking to pass legislation to permanently protect the area.

British Columbia government representatives pledged to enact new mineral and coal land reserve regulations, a Southern Rocky Mountain Management Plan, and other guidelines that restrict mining and energy development in the Flathead watershed that runs along the Montana and Canadian border.

The Nature Conservancy stated that the 400,000-acre region supports the largest population of grizzly bears in the Canadian interior, along with 69 other mammals, 270 bird species, 25 fish species and 1,200 plant species.[38]

May 2012: Anti-coal protesters arrested in White Rock, B.C.

In May 2012 thirteen protesters, along with one of Canada's leading energy-environment economists Mark Jaccard, a professor of sustainable energy at Simon Fraser University and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, were arrested after they set up a blockade on train tracks in White Rock, B.C., aimed at halting U.S. coal trains from reaching local ports.[39]

Oct 2010: Ontario to shut four coal units

In October 2010, the Canadian government announced that they will be shutting down four coal-fired units in Ontario, a move applauded by the Green Energy Act Alliance (GEAA), nurses, farmers, First Nations, trade unionists, environmentalists, and builders of clean energy. Since 2003, when coal-fired electricity use peaked, the Ontario Power Generation's emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are down 81 and 77 per cent. The plant's carbon dioxide emissions are down 71 per cent from 2003. 2009 generation by Ontario's coal plants was at the lowest levels in 45 years. In 2004, the Ontario Ministry of Energy estimated that when the health and environmental impacts are factored into the cost of electricity, coal costs 16.4 cents per kilowatt hour compared to 9.6 cents for wind.[40]

The 2008 report by the Ontario Medical Association, "Illness Cost of Air Pollution" found that air pollution was a factor in almost 9,500 premature deaths each year in Ontario. In 2005, smog was a factor for over 16,000 hospital admissions. Doris Grinspun, Executive Director of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO), said in a press release: "Nurses are pleased with today's announcement because it will save lives. We know up to 250 deaths each year are directly related to the burning of coal. That's why we are calling on the government to keep moving forward and accelerate its plan to shut down all coal plants." The RNAO is pleased that the four units are shutting down but would like the 11 remaining units that are running to also be non-operational.[40]

2013: Ending Coal for Cleaner Air Act

In Nov 2013, Ontario announced that the largest coal-burning power plant in North America, Nanticoke Generating Station on the north shore of Lake Erie, will stop burning coal by the end of the year. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne also announced new legislation – the Ending Coal for Cleaner Air Act – which will permanently ban coal-fired electricity from the province, which would make Ontario the first jurisdiction in North America to do so.[41]

Colombian Coal and Human Rights Violations

Colombia's coal mines, like many industries in the country, are filled with stories of displacement and terror. A number of entire communities in the coalfields have been displaced, including Tabaco, a 700-person Afro-Colombian village that was razed in 2001.[42] People living near the coalfields have faced malnutrition, diseases such as ringworm, and restricted access to land since the large mines opened up.[42]

The Drummond Company (operator of la Loma mine) has been the subject of numerous lawsuits regarding the murders of 70 union miners and railroad workers, collectively.[43][44][45] The murdered Colombians were killed by the notorious paramilitary group, United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which had been hired by Drummond to act as security.[44] In addition to those killed, a lawsuit against Drummond describes "how hundreds of men, women, and children were terrorized in their homes, on their way to and from work… innocent people killed in or near their homes or kidnapped to never to return home, their spouses and children being beaten and tied up, and people being pulled off buses and summarily executed on the spot."[44]

Carbon Capture projects

Canada holds large reserves of oil and tar sands, and is the largest exporter of oil to the U.S.,[46] prompting interest in carbon capture for enhanced oil recovery:

  • The Dakota Gasification Company's Great Plains Synfuels Plant, a coal gasification plant near Beulah, North Dakota, produces 200 million standard cubic feet per day (MMSCFD) of CO2 at full plant rates. The company began piping the CO2 to Canada for oil field injection in late 2000. In 2004 the company was selling an average of 95 MMSCFD of CO2 for injection. Sales were reported to be 152 MMSCFD in March 2008. [47] Sales of CO2 do not equate to sequestration, because there are various losses. The company filed Form EIA-1605 (Long Form for Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases) with the U.S. Department of Energy, claiming 2,725,000 metric tons of CO2 sequestration from project start-up in late 2000 through the end of 2003. In that form, the company claimed a net sequestration credit of 73%, implying that 27% of the sales were lost due to reasons such as flared CO2, fugitive emissions, and various indirect factors. Not included in the net sequestration credit calculation was increased CO2 releases resulting from the generation of electricity need for compression and pumping.[48]
  • In July 2010, the proposed $270-million Saskatchewan-Montana carbon capture project launched in 2009 now looks dead, as the American side of the partnership did not apply for stimulus funding from the U.S. government. Under the project, a 75-kilometre-long pipeline was to run between a coal-fired generating plant in Saskatchewan into Montana, where emissions were to be pumped underground. But Saskatchewan, which has put in $50 million, is the only jurisdiction to have committed money to the project. Saskatchewan Energy and Resources Minister Bill Boyd said that talks between all governments were still underway and he still had hopes for the project. The project depends on $100 million from the Canadian government and $100 million from the American government. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Boyd have both suggested a scaled-back version of the project may proceed without American involvement.[51]
  • In January 2011, Saskatchewan and Japan signed an agreement to work together on clean coal and carbon capture and storage. The Canadian province and the Japan Coal Energy Center — which represents more than 100 companies — signed a memorandum of understanding to encourage more co-operation on so-called clean coal technologies. The province stated the agreement would set the stage for information exchanges and research projects involving scientists and companies in both jurisdictions. The province stated that Japanese investment in Saskatchewan carbon capture and storage projects as a result. Saskatchewan Energy Minister Bill Boyd said the initiative would help industries and utilities reduce their environmental footprints. Saskatchewan is currently Canada's third-largest coal producer and also relies on coal to supply 62 per cent of the province's energy.[52]
  • In March 2011, Government House Leader John Baird announced federal funding of more than $1 million for coal gasification research in the province of Saskatchewan. The project is part of the Saskatchewan Energy Innovation Alliance (SEIA), a "clean coal" partnership between two nearby universities. In addition, Carbon Management Canada, a federally funded center, will provide another $300,000 for the research project.[53]

British Columbia carbon tax

On July 1, 2008, B.C. embarked brought in North America's first carbon tax shift. The carbon tax has two parts. First, it puts a price on emissions of carbon. As of July 2010, the cost is $20/tonne (it rises by $5 annually). Second, the revenues are returned as tax cuts for individuals and business. The province's economic modelling projects that the policy will lower greenhouse gas emissions by about five per cent.[56]

Despite fears that it would harm the economy, researchers Stewart Elgie, Nic Rivers, and Nancy Olewiler for Sustainable Prosperity, a national research and policy network, report that B.C.'s economic growth in 2009 -- the first full year the tax was in effect -- was higher than Canada's national rate. Unemployment, although high because of wider economic events, is below the national average and does not appear to have jumped when the tax shift came in.[56]

More significantly, the researchers say, was that "for taxpayers as a whole, the carbon tax shift has been an economic boon. During 2008 and 2009, the tax raised $846 million. However, the province tied the carbon tax to reductions in personal and corporate income taxes as well as tax credits to offset impacts on low-income individuals. The value of these offsetting cuts was nearly $1.1 billion over those two years, meaning a net tax reduction for taxpayers of about $230 million."[56]

Environmental and health effects

The 2013 study, "A Costly Diagnosis: Subsidizing coal power with Albertans' health," by researchers at the Pembina Institute noted that, in 2012, Alberta generated 64 per cent of its electricity by burning coal, and estimated the associated health impact costs at close to $300 million annually. The coal emissions contribute to over 4,000 asthma episodes, 700 emergency visits for respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, and about 100 premature deaths a year, according to the report.[57]


On October 31, 2013, an estimated 670 million litres of coal waste spilled out of the containment pond at the closed Obed Mountain coal mine near Hinton, Alberta, owned by Sherritt International. The waste entered the Athabasca River, sweeping through Fort McMurray en route to Lake Athabasca, and had traveled hundreds of kilometres downstream by late November, although the pollution became harder to track as the sediment suspension dissipated in the river and ice began to cover its movement.[58]



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Citizen Groups

External resources

"Coal phase out," Wikipedia