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Crowsnest Conservation Society provides introduction to coal projects in Pass

Friday, 31 January 2020. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Crowsnest Conservation Society provides introduction to coal projects in Pass

Atrum Coal has been doing exploratory drilling through holdings north of Crowsnest Pass for just over a year. This map shows Atrum’s current lease holdings and outlines the rough Elan South project area, where the company is focusing most of its exploratory efforts.   Project diagrams have been pulled from each company’s website.

Crowsnest Conservation Society provides introduction to coal projects in Pass 

By Jess Harrington

As Crowsnest Pass potentially approaches a contemporary coal boom, the Crowsnest Conservation Society has stepped forward to bring the community into the know.

A presentation put on as part of CCS’s annual general meeting Nov. 27 gave public stakeholders an introduction to four potential mining projects currently in development in the vicinity of Crowsnest Pass.

Representatives for North Coal, Riversdale Resources and Atrum Coal were given 15 minutes to provide an overview of their current projects, and to answer a few questions from the audience that filled the event room at Country Encounters Hospitality in Coleman.

Montem Resources was also invited, but not able to attend. The company did, however, send literature, which was discussed at length.

Robert Anderson, a CCS board member, was moderator for the night, and informed attendees that the presentation would not offer an opportunity for deep debate, though questions were encouraged.

Likewise, this article will provide only a brief overview of all that was discussed that night.

Atrum Coal: Elan Hard Coking Project

Atrum is an Australia-based exploratory coal company that acquired assets in the area in 2018.

It is currently exploring a 230-square-kilometre area located to the north of the proposed Grassy Mountain coal mine site. 

Compared to other companies working in the Crowsnest, Atrum’s project is in its infancy. So far, the company has no specific site plans to present to the public, and the majority of the work completed has been rough exploratory drilling.

Right now, Atrum is focusing most of its energy exploring a parcel of land it is calling Elan South, which backs onto the northern tip of Riversdale’s proposed Grassy Mountain footprint. Atrum will later look at another parcel called Isolation South, located farther north.

Daniel Campbell, chief geologist on the project, says Atrum has an estimated 300 million tonnes of resources to find between the two areas.

The company hopes to soon complete its first scoping study of Elan South, which will give a high-level overview of potential mine plans and infrastructure routes. It then plans to submit a project description, which will kickstart the federal regulation process.

Atrum recently opened an office on 20th Avenue in Blairmore, which serves as a base of operations as baseline environmental assessment and design work continues.

Mr. Campbell said the company is trying to connect with all possible stakeholders to help shape the project from the early stages.

Montem Resources: Tent Mountain Mine

20191218 Montem Resources Tent Mountain

Montem Resources holds extensive tenements around Tent Mountain.

As Montem Resources was not able to attend the meeting, Crowsnest Conservation member Rick Cooke shared some information on the company’s behalf.

Montem is another Australia-based company working to open a steel-making coal operation in the Crowsnest area.

Its primary project is the Tent Mountain Mine, located about 16 kilometres west of Coleman, and roughly six kilometres south of the main Canadian Pacific Railway line south of Highway 3.

Montem plans to build its new operation overtop a previous mine site. Open-cut mining has taken place sporadically at Tent Mountain since 1948.

Montem currently holds about 1,930 hectares of Crown coal leases and freehold tenements in and around Tent Mountain for the project.

Responding to a question as to to why Montem will be moving forward on Tent Mountain while North Coal has backed away from developing in the same area, North Coal’s Jason Swanson told the audience that it is because Montem intends to build on already-disrupted land, whereas North Coal was looking to start entirely from scratch.

Compared to the other projects in development in the Crowsnest, this one is further along.

Montem has already secured a mine permit from the Alberta energy regulator for Tent Mountain and has preliminary federal Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act approval.

However, the EPEA says Montem’s application requires another amendment before extraction can restart. The company is in the process of applying for this amendment, along with several other licences required to officially start operating.

Montem is also working to complete a feasibility study to see how quickly operations at Tent Mountain can be resumed.

The company recently opened an office in the former Bagatelle building in downtown Coleman. According to a company rep, plans for the office include a public-engagement centre in the front of the building, which will allow the public to look over project plans at their leisure.

North Coal: North Coal Project

20191218 North Coal North Coal
This map shows North Coal’s rough proposed footprint along Michel Creek southeast of Sparwood.

North Coal, an emerging steel-making coal company based out of Sparwood, B.C., is working on a two-pronged mining development in the Elk Valley.

The company holds licences for about 8,000 hectares of coalfield along Michel Creek, extending south of Highway 3 about halfway between Crowsnest Pass and Sparwood. About 1,400 of these hectares are targeted for resource development.

Original plans for the project involved extraction from the Loop Ridge, Tent Mountain and Michel Head formations in the Flathead Range. However, in working with a group of Ktunaxa Nation elders, North Coal has pulled the Tent Mountain portion of the project, as the elders have declared the area a critical wildlife corridor.

Jason Swanson, North Coal’s environmental co-ordinator, told AGM attendees that his company views co-operation with the Ktunaxa as essential, and is working to bring the First Nation into the project wherever possible. This includes consulting on site reclamation plans.

North Coal has been working on this project since 2013, and has been conducting baseline environmental and exploration surveys for the past six years. Mr. Swanson said the company hopes to start its application process with the B.C. and federal governments and Ktunaxa council in June 2020.

If the project is approved, North Coal expects to extract about two million tonnes of coal per year for 25 years.

The project would require construction of a new processing facility at Loop Ridge, but would rely on existing road, rail and power infrastructure in the area. This includes Corbin Road, which would remain fully open to the public.

Like all mines in the Elk Valley, North Coal anticipates issues with selenium toxicity in its runoff water and would use in-pit saturated fill and bottom-up mine rock storage technologies to battle this pollution.

These methods create low-oxygen environments that deprive oxygen-eating bacteria of easy food sources, forcing them to consume oxygen atoms attached to nitrates and selenium compounds.

Riversdale Resources: Grassy Mountain Coal Project

20191218 Riversdale Resources Grassy Mountain
Riversdale Resources currently holds several large tenements throughout Crowsnest Pass. The gold portion is where the proposed Grassy Mountain mine will go if approved. On the Riversdale website, www.rivresources.com, you can find an interactive site blueprint that outlines proposed infrastructure routes and placements.

As most in the room were familiar with the Grassy Mountain project, Tyler Reeve, who oversees Riversdale Resources’ safety, health and environmental department, took the opportunity to update the audience on the project’s progress.

Riversdale’s proposal to build a 25-year metallurgical coal mine north of Blairmore is still undergoing review by a joint federal and provincial panel. It has been under review since August of last year.

Since the panel was formed, Riversdale has been asked to resubmit or expand on several portions of its application of over 15,000 pages, extending the review process.

Mr. Reeve said the company anticipates an update on the application and, hopefully, an announcement of going to hearing in 2020.

In the meantime, project engineers continue to design the processing facility and rail loadout, which will need to be built if the project is approved.

As the loadout will be located adjacent to Highway 3, some local residents are concerned about impacts on quality of life.

The company has already incorporated a number of noise and dust mitigation strategies into its designs, including the use of a low-vibration, conveyor-style loadout with covered cars.

In response to public concern over selenium pollution in Gold and Blairmore creeks, Mr. Reeve shared that the company would be using flooded backfill pits as its primary mitigation strategy, though it is looking into other options as well.

Following these presentations, the floor was opened up for a general question-and-answer session.

Event attendees brought up several concerns. These included questions about why the companies are retaining more land leases than their proposed project footprints require; concerns over explorations that may disrupt important areas in the future, particularly in Montem’s tenements around Tent Mountain, which include land currently used by United Riders of Crowsnest; and the restoration of delicate areas, including critical subalpine regions, to original conditions after these sites expire.

The cumulative impact these projects might have on the area was also discussed at length. One attendee suggested that the four companies need to explore cumulative effects together, and another encouraged them to create a panel of public stakeholders to consult on issues that will impact the community.

To wrap up, all attendees were thanked for their interest in these important issues, and were encouraged to keep asking questions and to follow the projects’ progress.