By Marie-Renee Goulet

Something different to present to you today. I fell in love with Alberta a long time ago. As movie fans, anyone who has seen Legends of Fall (1994), Open Range (2003) or Brokeback Mountain (2005) can see why. When I drive west on Highway 1, my heart still swells when I come out of Scott Lake Hill as I make the left turn and 180 degrees of Rocky Mountains lay in front of me. It’s been 20 years and the scenery still moves me.

These mountains are rich in fossil fuels, namely coal. The Provincial Government instated the Coal Policy back in 1976 to governed coal leasing, exploration and development across four categories of land, which protected most of the western portion of the province.

The Alberta Government rescinded this Policy in June 2020.

Due to Albertans’ immediate reaction, the Government issued new confusing guidance saying they reinstated the original policy but this was misleading and not applicable to all categories of land. It really was just for the headlines because clearcut logging permits have been issued and the work in the Eastern Slopes has begun.

My good friend Travis Boschman wants all Canadians to know what that means and there is no better way than to show you these places. He set out to make a documentary and I want to do everything I can to help him so we can stop these projects.

After visiting one lease site a couple of weeks ago, I can confirm that Australian coal mining companies have opened store front offices in Coleman and Blairmore to sell the projects. Of all proposed projects, only one, Benga, has reached the point to submit an Environmental Impact Assessments, which are submitted to the Government of Alberta and of Canada. The Benga mine is the only one that has reached this stage so far and is, therefore, the only mine with economic impact information.

Benga’s estimates are as follow: 385 long term jobs would be created in a province of 4 million residents, generating $140 million and $210 million in provincial and federal corporate income taxes, respectively.

Benga estimates that $195 million would be paid in provincial royalties over the project’s twenty-three-year operating life, with an assumption of $140/tonne average real price of coal. That is a measly $8.4MM a year. What do those who depend on the water and land get in return?

All mining companies speak of new technology and methods to protect waterways but make no mistake. Despite containment efforts, mountains are steep and can receive heavy precipitation and snowmelt runoff; these containment structures can fail. If they fail, contaminated water containing selenium, nitrate, and sediment is released into nearby creeks and rivers. Too much selenium in a river is known to cause deformities and reproductive failure in fish. Fish become the “canary in coal the mine” as their tolerance to selenium is much lower than that of a human.

Open-pit coal mines require complete deforestation and removal of all vegetation, small creeks, and intermittent streams on-site. This means that all of that habitat for aquatic species and terrestrial wildlife must be removed until the mining company closes the operation. Companies will try and reassure us with their plan to reclaim the land. How do you reclaim aquatic species and wildlife after 23 years? Alberta has a long history of industrial developments being abandoned and not reclaimed.

Well over 111,000 people live directly downstream from the proposed coal mines. The risk to their drinking water supply is difficult to predict. Looking to our neighbours in B.C., Sparwood had to close down one of its water wells because of selenium contamination from nearby coal mines.

Important to note that downstream of these proposed mines is one of Canada’s most valuable agricultural regions.

Are we so small and short sighted that we are prepared to destroy one of the most spectacular and crucial regions in Canada for 23 years of limited revenue that will not even have a material impact on the economy?

All of this so Australian mine companies can ship metallurgic coal overseas?

The documentary is in the early stages of production. Please take a moment to watch the first trailer and if you are moved, anything you could contribute to our GoFundMe page will be appreciated. 100% of funds go to support the cost of production, which is entirely privately funded at this time.

The documentary will be a love letter to the Eastern Slopes of the Canadian Rockies while educating viewers on the irreversible damage to Western Canada’s environment. We hope it will cause a few to call on their elected officials to stop the mines. These currently intact landscapes are a resource that must be protected and preserved for generations to come.

Watch the trailer.

Visit gofundme.

Visit the website for more information. You can find the coal lease map here and petitions.

Photo Credit: Jack Borno

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