No end in Sight
There have been many announcements about the end of coal-fired electricity in Alberta over the last two years. On the surface it sounds great to reduce the toxic pollution created by coal. Coal plants are a major source of air pollution, releasing pollutants such as: cadmium, lead, mercury, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide into the environment. When I use the term environment it covers: air, land, water and atmosphere.
Coal mining in Alberta has a long history of employment and a reasonable living. Long before oil and gas were discovered coal kept everyone warm. Many of the people in the early days of coal mining suffered from black lung disease, chronic and acute respiratory diseases. It is proper to say thank you to those who mined the coal and their families.
Closed by 2030
The government of Alberta in conjunction with industry and the private sector intend to make the transition over the next thirteen (13) years. All of the remaining coal-fired electrical plants are to be converted to natural gas combined with renewable energies.
During the time Peter Lougheed was Premier he told Albertans the foothills would be a place for recreation. The Federal government had already created Jasper National Park and Banff National Park bordering on Alberta and British Columbia. Millions of people from everywhere know about the parks and use them all year. They have become so expensive it is unlikely most Albertans can afford the costs. Waterton National Park was created prior to 1900 in the southwest corner of Alberta bordering on Montana. Kananaskis Country is another popular park area in Alberta easily accessed with three highways. All of the services shown in the diagram are available, at a cost, to anyone who needs to bring every possible appliance along with their gas guzzling home on wheels.
Now the Kicker
Many Albertans, including myself, would rather get away from the noise pollution in the larger parks. There was one place in Alberta to camp in the back country away from the city pollution of noise, light, concrete and pavement. It is on the map as the Whitehorse Wildland Park located between Jasper and Banff on the Alberta side of the Rocky Mountains.
Click on the image for a larger and more readable map. As you can see a large part of this so-called park is no longer accessible to the public. The four ghost towns in the green and red area near the bottom of the map were plowed under by the coal mining companies. They were kind enough to relocate the Mountain View cemetery a good distance from it's original location.
I began camping in this area in 1978 when it was absolutely pristine wilderness with mountains, forests, rivers, creeks, wildlife and a single lane forestry road. You cannot imagine the untouched scenery with the universe alive in the night sky. The rivers and small creeks were fed from melting snow and glaciers making it ice cold and drinkable. A Forestry Ranger gave a forestry road map to me while advising of some dangers on the roads. It was a park where anyone staying could camp in one place for two weeks at no cost. Although the government website states there is no cost today there is a charge of $12.00/day. It includes all the horse manure and urine your nose can handle.
Photos are from my collection taken with a 35mm camera with film from 1978-1989. It was easy to leave the world behind and fall in love with nature. All the photos should be larger with a simple click.
Along Comes Open-Pit and Mountain Removal Coal Mining
According to thousands of documents I was able to retrieve geologists began to seriously study the rock formations during the 1980s. Work was done prior to that time though not to the same extent. The Conservative governments under Premiers Getty and Klein opened up the park to remove the coal without any rules or regulations.
This was once a mountain range on the outer limits of the Wildlife Park taken in 2015. Trees will not grow on the grass covered hills because there is not enough soil for a tree to grow. It's a panorama photo you can enlarge to see the extent of the destruction.
360 Video Shows where Mountains and Forests once Existed
Coal mining requires plenty of water to keep the coal dust contained and processed. The water is no longer drinkable from the rivers and smaller creeks. Large tailings ponds are everywhere around the park. The toxic lakes of pollutants are located above the groundwater basin for the North Saskatchewan River.
The river supplies drinking water to many towns and cities including Edmonton, Alberta and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan all the way to the Hudson's Bay. A constant flow of chemicals enters the tailings ponds every minute of every day from the coal open-pit mines. There is nothing stopping the toxins from entering the groundwater.
What Is an Open-Pit or Surface Mine?
Let's use a photo and a short video to explain what happens because you really don't want me to explain it with words. The first photo is from the mining industry where they leave out the tailings ponds.
I will show you steps 4-5-6 in photos before and after with photos taken in the park. The overburden mentioned in Step 5 is the removal of an entire range of mountains. What took nature a hundred million years to create the coal mining companies can cover up in a few months.
This short video is about mountain top removal in West Virginia. The same techniques are being used in Alberta's open-pit coal mining.
This is a tailings pond sitting where that was once a mountain. Anyone who ever camped in this area knows about the underground caves and rivers. Filthy coal filled waste water will easily find it's way into the groundwater.
It is a panorama photo for you to see a much bigger picture.
The next two photos were taken in the exact same spot with the first one in 1988 and the second in 2016. They show what the coal mining industry calls reclamation or contouring the land.
Yes it is a good move to halt the use of coal for electricity in Alberta. There is a tiny note in the fine print of the proposal not mentioned to the public. Coal mining will continue destroying this wilderness area until at least 2050. In over 30+ years from now a vast piece of Alberta will become a barren and uninviting toxic slurry. Our children's children will never forgive us for allowing this to happen.
Do you want to know what is in your drinking water along the North Saskatchewan River? This is the legacy left by decades of Conservative governments in Alberta. Will the NDP halt all coal mining once the power plants are converted?
Are you willing to let the coal mining industry put No Trespassing signs on Alberta's only wilderness park?
Further Reading and Resources
Alberta Climate Change Advisory Panel
Environment and Natural Resources Alberta
Mountains and Climate Change
Portraits of Climate Change: The Rocky Mountains
Alberta Renewable Energy
Premier Rachel Notley
U.S. Geological Survey
Alberta Parks and Campgrounds
More Photos from my Collection