Coal industry calls for support of thermal coal

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

An executive with the company that owns Coalspur Mine Ltd. called for public support of thermal coal and the local Vista Coal project expansion before the feedback process closes Aug. 28.

Edward Griffith, vice president of human resources at Vista Energy Resources, said that support is needed in response to a federal strategic assessment of thermal coal.

“A strategic assessment could be detrimental to the industry possibly and that’s hopefully what we’re trying to avoid with our partners and vendor partners and indigenous groups and so forth,” Griffith told a group of Hinton Rotary members at its Aug. 26 meeting.

He added that the community as a whole should be considered and how heavy-handed policies by the government are detrimental to a community like Hinton.

As other coal mining companies are letting their employees go, it impacts the community and its growth, he said.

He mentioned that the Vista mine workforce was disappointed they have not been heard by the impact assessment agency in this process.

A letter from Vista Energy Resources has also been circulating online calling on those in favour of the Canadian thermal coal industry and the jobs and prosperity it brings to the local and national economy and the welfare of indigenous and minority communities. The letter stated that this indicates the government’s negative view towards thermal coal mining. Individuals were asked to write emails or letters in support of the Vista mine to the ministers office.

Separately from the strategic assessment of thermal coal, the federal minister of Environment and Climate Change recently designated the Vista mine expansion project for federal review.

The Impact Assessment Agency found that the Vista mine project, just east of Hinton, did not trigger the Impact Assessment Act, and while the minister initially decided against designating the Vista mine, he recently went back on that decision.

The minister noted in December that adverse effects would be addressed through provincial processes.

A federal review could delay the construction and expansion of this mine by six to nine years.

“This would adversely affect not just Vista but it would adversely affect the growth or expansion of any thermal project within Canada,” Griffith said at the meeting.

He added that the federal government could require a review of the mine every five years, which makes it difficult to attract investors.

Global use of thermal coal will likely increase instead of decrease, and Canada provides the most environmentally sound and safest coal in the world, Griffith noted.

Phase II and the underground expansion of Phase I at the Vista mine bring the total infrastructure investment to over $1.1 billion, of which nearly 70 per cent is spent with Canadian companies, according to Robin Campbell, President of the Coal Association of Canada.

Vista Mine has over 300 full time employees, and the underground mine project with the phase II expansion would add 370 full time jobs, Campbell said.

Cline Group owns Coalspur Mine Ltd, or locally known Bighorn Mining, who began shipping thermal coal to Asian markets from the Vista mine in May 2019, located just east of Hinton.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has not received applications or an Environmental Impact Assessment Report for the Vista mine phase II.

On Feb. 21, Coalspur applied to the AER under the Coal Conservation Act, Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, and Water Act to develop its Vista Test Underground Mine Project. 

As part of the application process, Coalspur is not required to submit an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report to the AER for its Test Underground Mine Project.

The estimated processing time for the Vista Test Underground Mine application is 375 business days.

New applications are shared with the public through our Public Notice of Application web page.

Anyone who believes they may be directly or adversely affected by an application may file a statement of concern (SOC) with the AER. 

When an application is up for consideration, AER reviews every SOC received in relation to that application and determines whether a hearing should be held to further examine stakeholder concerns. 

Hearing notices are posted on the AER website.