What is Mine 14 and why does it matter?

May 25, 2023
By: cpawsstaff

What is Mine 14 and why does it matter?

Tara Russell, Last Updated May 25th, 2023

In Spring of 2022, the Government of Alberta, in response to the outcry about new coal mining in Alberta’s eastern slopes, announced a moratorium on coal development and exploration – with a few exceptions. Mine 14 was one of those exceptions – and it is now moving forward. 

Background on Mine 14 

Mine 14 was granted an exception to the coal mining moratorium in 2022.  This mine has been making its way through the approvals process since 2007, but small portions of their project have continued to quietly receive approvals to this day.  

Albertans were very clear that they do not want more coal mine exploration or development in their headwaters. Recent coal mine spills exemplify the very real fears held by downstream communities of industrial wastewaters that enter our rivers and impact our drinking water. And yet, Mine 14 progresses in the headwaters of the Smoky River.  

Quick Facts About Mine 14: 

  • Proposed underground metallurgical coal mine 
  • 4kms NW of Grande Cache 
  • 3,562 tonnes of coal/day 
  • 53.5 hectares of surface disturbance  
  • 512 hectares subsurface area 
Fold near Grande Cache, by mnlamberson, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Fold near Grande Cache, by mnlamberson, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

According to a 2022 investor presentation delivered to the Municipal District of Greenview (starting on page 58) Mine 14 already has their Mine License and Mine Permit in place, but is still waiting for the below approvals before mine development can move forward: 

  • Water License Amendment 
  • EPEA Amendment (Draft Approval No. 234735-00-00) 
  • MSL Mineral Surface Lease (renewal) 
  • LOC License of Occupation – Access Road (renewal) 
  • Municipal Development Permit 
  • Roadside Development Permit (renewal) 

Due to a lack of transparency and accessibility in the development process, CPAWS Northern Alberta was unable to find updated information on the status of their pending approvals. It is unclear if construction has begun for the project.  

Who Owns Mine 14?

Mine 14 is owned by Summit Coal Inc, which was purchased by Valory Resources in 2022.  Like with most coal mines, it has a complicated web of ownership by limited liability companies. Milner Power Inc was the original applicant for the Mine permit and license for Mine 14. Milner Power Inc. is a wholly owned subsidy of Maxim Power Corp. (Maxim). Maxim is a Canadian-owned and operated company, and an Independent Power Producer (IPP). Maxim trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol “MXG” 

The Mine 14 permit was transferred from Milner Power Inc. to Summit Coal Inc. in 2013. 

Then, in 2022, Australian owned Valory Resources acquired Summit Coal Inc, and the Mine 14 Project. Valory Resources previously only owned Black Eagle Mining Corp, which is responsible for the Blackstone Mine Project in Clearwater County in the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River.  

Grande Cache, Alberta. by Rural Health Professions Action Plan, Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Grande Cache, Alberta. by Rural Health Professions Action Plan, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Environmental Concerns from Mine 14 

The mine permit and license are both over 10 years old and based on an even older environmental assessment submitted as part of the mine application in 2007. In the past ten years, the environmental conditions of the region have changed substantially, meaning this assessment and mine license should be considered out of date.  

 

Mine 14 is located in the middle of an area currently undergoing a sub-regional land use planning processNo new mines should be developed in the region, but especially not ahead of a new regional land use plan. A subregional land use plan is meant to address community, environmental and economic concerns with consideration of cumulative impacts. It is inappropriate to allow the development of a mine outside of this process considering the negative environmental and health concerns that this mine will have. 

What is Mine 14 and why does it matter?

Mine 14 poses risk to a number of ecological values in the region. The Smoky River is home to native fish species including Alberta’s threatened Bull Trout. The Little Smoky River was assessed by the province to contain currently stable populations (rare in Alberta’s headwaters) that were facing moderate, imminent threats. Increased development alongside the river, along with the potential for spills from the mine tailings will increase the risk to this population of trout.  

The mine is within Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goat Habitat. They are known to be sensitive to human disturbances and land use activities can have significant impacts on both species, for instance, dispersing farther from areas with road construction and traffic, forestry or mineral exploration adjacent to their ranges. The Government of Alberta has a commitment to identify critical goat and sheep ranges, to avoid land use disturbances that may have a direct or indirect adverse effect on the behaviour of the animals and avoid permanent alteration of physical habitat conditions. 

Key Wildlife and Biodiversity Areas guidelines have been identified for selected wildlife species, species groups and ecological regions of the province to assist land managers, landowners and land users in avoiding or minimizing potential adverse impacts to wildlife from various land use activities. 

A new coal mine in this region will have adverse environmental impacts including: 

  • Contribute to the significant existing cumulative environmental impacts in the region 
  • Risk contamination of the Smoky River with sediment, selenium and arsenic – there is an existing coal mine across the river already 
  • Impact downstream habitat for native burbot, whitefish, bull trout and arctic grayling 
  • Increase cumulative impacts to caribou by increased traffic on highway 40, which cuts through caribou habitat 
  • Damage habitat for threatened wolverines and grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats 
  • Infringement on Indigenous rights 

Adding more mines in this sensitive region is especially concerning given the questionable ability of coal mine operators to keep the environment and water safe. Recent spills from nearby mines shows the industry is not equipped to suitably manage its environmental risks, including CST coal’s two spills into the Smoky River in Grande cache in late 2022, and early 2023, and Coal Spur’s recent unidentified spill in April 2023. 

What is Mine 14 and why does it matter?
What is Mine 14 and why does it matter?

Regulations that apply to the Mine 14 Project

Due to it’s scope and size, Mine 14 is currently only subject to review and regulation by the Government of Alberta alone. In 2022, the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation (“AWN”) requested that the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Canada designate the Project for additional federal review, in addition to the provincial review. AWN cited concerns regarding the mine’s impact on their asserted rights to hunt, fish, gather, trap, and their rights to a healthy environment. Coal mine development has impacts to species of cultural concern to the nation such as bears, deer, moose and elk. Coal mining has known environmental health risks: coal dust from mining causes health problems in humans, and bioaccumulation of coal contaminants in wildlife can pose risks if consumed.  

Despite AWN’s request for federal designation under the Impact Assessment Act, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada did not designate the project. The decision stated that the project does not warrant designation due to the current legislative processes in place provide a sufficient framework to address the concerns brought forward by AWN, and that provincial and federal regulations will have to be followed.   

Federal designation of the project would have subjected it to a more rigorous review of the potential environmental, health, economic, and community impacts. The federal review under the Impact Assessment Act would require the project to be held to a higher standard of public interest. Federal review also considers the concerns of all Canadians, not just those deemed ‘directly affected’ by the Province of Alberta. 

For now, Mine 14 will continue its journey through the provincial review process, which has already resulted in several permit approvals (see above section ‘Mine 14’).  

Read AWN’s request for designation here: https://iaac-aeic.gc.ca/050/documents/p83917/144909E.pdf 

Read Summit Coal’s Response: https://registrydocumentsprd.blob.core.windows.net/commentsblob/project-83917/comment-58966/Summit%20Mine%2014%20-%20IAAC%20Questions%20-%20Sept%2018.pdf 

Take Action 

The health of Alberta’s rivers and streams is impacted by mining activities. Mines put undue stress on our water sources, which can impact downstream drinking waters across the province. Mining activities impact the livelihoods of people who live downstream and in the surrounding areas. It is unfair to unload the burden of environmental impacts on these communities.  

Industrial mining, whether it is coal, or oilsands mines create unacceptable costs of environmental damage, often irreparable, and future activities cannot go forward if environmental liabilities are of this magnitude. 

Take Action today and say no to coal in Alberta’s water sources.  

We would like to thank Alberta Ecotrust Foundation for supporting our work to protect Alberta’s Eastern Slopes. 

STAY INFORMED

Protect the Wilderness

To receive news and updates from CPAWS Northern Alberta, including opportunities to get involved, join our mailing list below.

Subscribe