June 21, 2021
From our start in 2013, North Coal has focused on solving the most important challenges facing new mine development, especially impacts we now understand from a long history of coal mining in the Elk Valley. We do this by working collaboratively, responsively, and transparently with communities and residents, Indigenous Nations, and all levels of government at every step of the journey.
We live here too, and we care deeply about the water, land, air, and wildlife around us. We do this work because it helps us build strong and innovative solutions to the most pressing problems, like selenium, into the very foundation of our plan. With a lot in the news recently about coal policy changes and other mine proposals, we want to provide important information to our community members, Indigenous groups, and stakeholders on these issues as they relate to North Coal’s proposed Michel Coal Project, near Sparwood, British Columbia.
The Regulatory Process
Our project is subject to strict and rigorous federal and provincial environmental assessments. North Coal is currently progressing through Project review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012 and the 2018 BC Environmental Assessment Act. It is a joint review process coordinated by the BC Environmental Assessment Office (BCEAO).
North Coal is currently preparing the application according to federal Environmental Impact Statement guidelines and provincial Application Information Requirements specific to our project. We are taking our time to build an application that meets the requirements of a robust environmental approval process, a process with high standards that Canadians should expect. The immediate next step in the process is to complete a concordance review of the application with both levels of government. Once the concordance review is complete, North Coal can proceed with the application, at which time the full document will be available for public review and comment. North Coal is planning public information sessions prior to the application submission to share details and hear from Indigenous peoples and stakeholders. Our team is happy to meet with groups who are interested in learning more about the project, so please do not hesitate to reach out if you would like to chat with us (contact us here).
Federal Impact Assessment Policy Changes
In June, the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced that the Impact Assessment process would restrict the development of new thermal coal (coal used to generate power) in Canada, in line with international climate change commitments. Because North Coal would develop high-quality steelmaking coal resources (also known as metallurgical coal used as an essential ingredient in new steel production), these changes do not change or impact our proposal.
In a later announcement, the federal Minister also updated the Impact Assessment policy to require that all new metallurgical coal mines would be subject to a federal Impact Assessment. Again, this created no change for us as the Michel Coal Project has always been developed under the federal assessment process.
Grassy Mountain Impact Assessment
The Grassy Mountain Coal Project is a steelmaking coal project in southwestern Alberta. The application for review was submitted in May 2016 and has been going through a technical review with regulators since that time. The recent announcement is based on the work of a Joint Review Panel who completed a thorough review of the document.
In a June 17th report, the Joint Panel reviewing the Grassy Mountain proposal announced that the project was not recommended for approval. This recommendation will go to the federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, who will make a final decision in the coming months. According to its report, the Joint Panel was not satisfied that the plan for this project met the technical standards needed to protect the environment. The full report can be found here.
At every step, North Coal has put environmental management and protection at the core of mine design. That focus has resulted in a holistic, or all-encompassing, approach to protecting water quality during operations and after mine closure, leaving a positive legacy for the Indigenous people and communities who will use the land after mining operations.
North Coal protects the future by understanding the past, which is why we support and constructively work with our partners in communities and First Nations to bring solutions to our planning table. North Coal shares community goals of protecting the natural environment while driving economic development in the region. We have put significant effort into working with Indigenous communities and local stakeholders in ensuring the land is returned to a healthy and useful environment for future generations to enjoy.
Our Commitment to Water Quality Protection
Our plan does not rely on one solution. We address selenium and other elements of concern at the root of the problem using a proven combination of techniques. Together, these will sustainably control selenium levels and prevent contamination during operations and after mine closure.
First and foremost, we will keep clean water clean by ensuring streams, rivers, and groundwater are diverted around the site to avoid any contact with mine rock. Next, water from the site undergoes passive water treatment using specially engineered mine features like bottom-up mined rock storage facilities (MRSFs) and saturated rock fills (SRFs). Passive systems use natural processes to mitigate selenium and other elements from exiting the MRSF and SRF facilities. Finally, our plan includes active water treatment. Active water treatment is a final barrier to capturing elements that may have entered the water. It will be used while the MRSFs and SRFs develop. The water treatment systems will be monitored on a routine basis to ensure all water released from those facilities meet the regulatory and social requirements which will keep our waters clean and protected.
Our Work with Indigenous Communities is Paramount
Along with water, Indigenous engagement has been at the top of our list since day one. We have been meeting with the Ktunaxa Nation Council and the bands of the Ktunaxa Nation – Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi ‘it, ʔaq̓am, Yaqan Nukiy, and ʔakisq̓nuk since 2013. We have been proud and honoured to have elders and land-users walk the land with our technical teams and provide traditional knowledge which has informed our mine design and planning around closure and reclamation.
Traditional knowledge shared by the Ktunaxa through the Furbearers group and the Reclamation and Closure group has been incorporated into decision-making and mine planning. The work of the Furbearers group identified a wildlife corridor, or as it was put – a wildlife highway, across the Tent deposit of the project. Based on the identified importance of this corridor by the Ktunaxa, the Tent deposit and mine footprint was removed from the mine plan with the intention of protecting this area for traditional and ecological purposes. This is one example of the work we are doing with Indigenous people to respect their values and ensure Indigenous people have a seat at our table in planning the future of our mine.
Reclamation starts early in mine life
A key aspect of our mine planning approach is to begin with the end in mind. We have worked with the Ktunaxa on our vision for mine reclamation and closure. The vision is to return the land to a place where people can hunt, fish, trap, and gather with relative success. It is also our goal to return the land to a functioning ecosystem as soon as possible. We will do this through progressive reclamation, or reclaiming disturbed lands as we mine. Progressive reclamation has many benefits. It supports our water quality passive water treatment systems, re-builds wildlife habitat early in mine life, and reduces impact on air quality through minimizing the creation of dust.
Our reclamation work is starting now. Working with Indigenous groups, we are identifying plants of cultural significance and will be working with the Ktunaxa to collect seeds before mine life for reclamation. Every step of mine construction and operation is focused on protecting the natural environment. Before mine construction and operations, soil and native seeds will be collected from the project area. Modern mine design and innovative technologies prevent air, water, and soil contamination using mitigation measures and active water treatment. Long-term passive water treatment prevents pollution after mine closure. After mine closure, the land will be returned to a functioning ecosystem where-by the goal of being able to hunt, fish, trap and gather will be achieved.
Steelmaking coal and the future
Steelmaking coal will be needed for decades to come as the world transitions to sustainable energy solutions. The demand for steelmaking coal continues to grow, as does the demand for steel. Roughly 70% of all steel is made using the blast furnace method that needs steelmaking coal. Steelmaking coal has three main roles in the creation of steel: 1) it is a chemical reductant in the reaction that turns iron oxide into iron; 2) as a mechanical and porous support for the blast furnace charge; and, 3) as a source of heat. Steelmakers are exploring alternatives to coal in the production of new steel. These technologies, like using hydrogen in place of steelmaking coal, are in their infancy. The International Energy Agency reports that by “mid-century, less than 10% of steel produced globally will use renewable hydrogen as its energy source” (Recharge News).
Between now and then, steel mills will be looking for steelmaking coal sourced from companies with high environmental, social, and governance (ESG) commitments. We are currently building our plans and signing partnerships to move us to the lowest possible green house gas emitter in the steelmaking coal industry. We are exploring equipment options, mine layouts, renewable energy and energy storage options that will bring our Scope 1 and 2 emissions to net-zero.
Looking forward together
North Coal’s thoughtful, holistic approach is committed to sustainable and ethical construction and operations practices to extract steelmaking coal. North Coal’s partnership with Indigenous people and communities is built on the premise that environmental stewardship goes hand-in-hand with economic development. North Coal is committed to the health and well-being of Elk Valley communities. North Coal recognizes that people’s health and well-being depend upon the health and well-being of the natural environment.
Our local North Coal team works hard every day to develop a project that is a leading example of what is possible in Canada’s modern mining sector. Our team lives here and we are part of the community. We fish in the Elk River, hike in the local mountain ranges, and appreciate the diversity of recreation and industry in the region. We volunteer with local nonprofits, and we raise our families here. We are personally vested not only in the economic success of the project but also the environmental protections of the project. By working together, focusing on sustainability, and using innovative approaches to solve the greatest challenges facing our region and sector, North Coal is committed to doing things right from the start and throughout the Project’s life.
Thank you for your time, and please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team if you have questions.