Coal is a combustible SEDIMENTARY ROCK formed from the remains of plant life and comprises the world's largest fossil energy resource. It is located primarily in the Northern Hemisphere.
Coal is a combustible SEDIMENTARY ROCK formed from the remains of plant life and comprises the world's largest fossil energy resource. It is located primarily in the Northern Hemisphere. Coal is not a uniform substance; rather, it is a wide variety of minerals with different characteristics arising from the nature of its vegetation source and siltation history and from the time and geological forces involved in its formation (including temperature and pressure).
Coal is classified according to 4 ranks or classes, each subdivided according to fixed carbon and volatile matter content and heating value. The anthracite class, the most valuable, is blended with bituminous coals to make coke for the iron and steel industry and is also used in the chemical industries. Bituminous coal, besides its use in steelmaking, is used as thermal coal for ELECTRIC-POWER GENERATION. Subbituminous coal supplies thermal-power fuel and steam for industry, and can be used in COAL GASIFICATION and COAL LIQUEFACTION.
The lowest grade of coal, lignite, is used for the same purposes as subbituminous coal. Canada's only known body of anthracite was discovered in northwestern BC; bituminous coal is found in NS, NB, Alberta and BC; subbituminous, in Alberta; lignite in Saskatchewan and BC. With its usual perversity, nature did not distribute Canada's coal conveniently. In NS, most of it is under the seafloor; in western Canada, which has about 97% of the country's coal, almost all of it is located hundreds of kilometres from either the Pacific tidewater or central Canada.
Canada contains nearly 4% of the world's coal resources, exceeded only by the former Soviet Union, the US, the People's Republic of China and Australia. Canada has at least 80 billion t of exploitable coal using today's technology, with about 8 billion t classified as commercially feasible under today's conditions. These reserves equal about 100 years' supply at current production levels.
History in Canada
Coal has been mined in Canada since 1639, when a small mine was opened at Grand Lake (NB). In 1720 French soldiers began to mine at Cow Bay (Cape Breton, NS) to supply the fortress at LOUISBOURG. Cape Breton later supplied coal to Boston and other American ports, and to the militia in Halifax. By 1870, 21 collieries were operating in Cape Breton. These markets disappeared early in this century.
Commercial COAL MINING in New Brunswick began in 1825 and, except for some early exports, most of the province's coal production has been used locally. In western Canada, coal was first mined on Vancouver Island in the mid-19th century. The building of the transcontinental railways through Alberta and BC caused coal mines to be developed on the banks of the Oldman River near Lethbridge, at Banff, Drumheller and Edmonton.
By 1867 coal production had reached an annual total of 3 million t: over 2 million t in NS, most of the balance in western Canada and a small amount in NB. By 1911 western Canada had taken the lead and, despite serious downturns in the 1950s and 1960s, it now produces over 95% of the total. In 1947, the year that OIL AND NATURAL GAS were first produced commercially near Leduc, Alta, coal supplied one-half of Canada's ENERGY needs - Drumheller alone producing 2 million t of coal and employing 2000 men. The rapid conversion of coal's traditional markets to oil and gas caused the coal mining industry almost to disappear.
Beginning in about 1950, almost all coal used for domestic heating, industrial energy and transportation energy was replaced by petroleum products and natural gas.
Coal mining entered an expansion phase in the late 1960s. Canadian producers signed long-term contracts under which they supplied several million tonnes of metallurgical coal each year to Japan. This led to the re-opening of some closed mines and the development of new mines in Alberta and BC. At about the same time, Alberta and Saskatchewan began to use their substantial coal resources to produce electricity.
Throughout the 1970s, unprecedented international crude oil price increases and supply disruptions focused attention on coal as an alternate energy source. In the mid-1970s, with the steel industry still growing, major producers such as Japan sought to further diversify their sources of supply. This led to more expansion of the Canadian coal industry in the 1970s and early 1980s. New mines opened and new efficient rail and port facilities were put in place.
The Modern Industry
Coal meets about an eighth of Canada's primary energy needs, mainly as a fuel for electricity generation. The Canadian steel industry depends on coal for the production of almost every tonne of steel. Canada's coal consumption jumped in the late 1980s and has remained fairly constant since. Coal now supplies about 12% of Canada's energy needs. Because Canada produces more coal than it uses and because of an ever-growing worldwide demand for coal, along with a world-competitive Canadian industry, almost half of its production is exported.
Coal is one of Canada's leading mineral export commodities, with exports valued at about $2 billion. Canada is the world's fourth-largest exporter of coal, after Australia, the US and South Africa. While Canada exports both metallurgical and thermal coal, it is the higher-value metallurgical coals that make up most of its coal exports. However, growth potential for exports is considered to be in thermal coals. In 1995, 20 countries imported coal from Canada.
These developments have resulted in vast changes in the Canadian coal industry. Over 400 small producers were in operation in the 1930s; today, Canada has only 8 large producers and a small number of minor producers.
The principal coal mines in Canada are located as follows.
Prince Colliery, Cape Breton Development Corp.
Minto/Chipman area pits, NB Coal Ltd.
Bienfait Mine, Boundary Dam Mine and Shand Mine, Luscar Ltd; Costello Mine and Poplar River Mine, Manalta Coal Ltd; Utility Mine, Saskatchewan Power Corp, with a subsidiary of Manalta as operator.
Alberta Coal Valley Mine, Luscar Ltd; Genesee Operations, Edmonton Power and Fording Coal Ltd; Gregg River Mine, Manalta Coal Ltd and Japanese companies; Highvale Mine, TransAlta Utilities with Manalta as operator; Luscar Mine, Luscar Ltd and Consolidation Coal Co of Canada; Montgomery Mine, Manalta Coal Ltd; Obed Mine, Luscar Ltd; Paintearth Mine, Luscar Ltd; Sheerness Mine, Luscar Ltd; Smoky River Mine, Smoky River Coal Ltd; Vesta Mine, Alberta Power Ltd, with Manalta as operator; Whitewood Mine, TransAlta Utilities Corp, with Fording Coal Ltd as operator.
British Columbia Bullmoose Mine, Teck Corp and others; Coal Mountain, Fording Coal Ltd; Elkview Mine, Teck Corp; Fording River Mine, Fording Coal Ltd; Greenhills Mine, Fording Coal Ltd and Pohang Steel Canada Ltd; Line Creek Mine, Manalta; Quinsam Mine, Hillsborough Resources Ltd and Marubeni Coal Canada Ltd; Quintette Mine, Teck Corp and others.
Some 34 million t of coal were exported in 1995, and 9.3 million t were imported; about 74.9 million t were produced and about 52.8 million t were consumed in Canada. One reason for the apparent anomalous situation of a major coal-producing country importing such a large quantity of coal is that most of Canada's coal is located about 2300 km from the industrial heartland of central Canada. As a result, the steel mills in Ontario and Ontario Hydro have found it advantageous to import most of their coal from nearby mines in the US.
The 2 major railways that carry western coals to Pacific tidewater also carry potash, sulphur, grain, petrochemicals and forest products. Huge capital investments are being made to increase rail capacity, thus enabling the railways to meet projected offshore demand for these products.
The production and use of coal can create certain environmental problems. In Canada, environmental protection is addressed at all stages of coal production. Environmental assessments are an integral part of provinces' process of approving new mining operations. Activities associated with coal mining, such as the removal of vegetation, relocation of overburden, construction of roads, blasting and reclamation of previously mined areas are carried out to minimize any negative effect on the ENVIRONMENT. Several Canadian coal mining companies have been recognized for their successful environmental mine management programs.
In Canada, only relatively small areas in the West are being disturbed at any one time for the purpose of coal mining. Land disturbed annually by operating mines includes 182 ha in mountainous regions of BC, 174 ha in Alberta, and 130 ha in plains areas of Saskatchewan. Using technology now available, coal can be mined, transported and used in most parts of the world in conformity with high standards of health, safety and environmental protection without unacceptable increases in cost.
At the coal utilization stage, air emissions are a concern (see AIR POLLUTION). Coal accounts for about 20%, 15%, and 20% respectively of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in Canada. Coal is also a source of heavy metals emissions. In 1994, eastern Canadian coal-burning utilities (Nova Scotia Power Inc., New Brunswick Power and Ontario Hydro) were all below their SO2 emission limits. Emissions were 329 kt (kilotonnes), compared to a legislated limit totalling 443 kt. However, in several acid-sensitive areas of eastern Canada, even with implementation of existing programs to control SO2 emissions in Canada and the US, sulphate deposition will continue to cause lake acidification. A stakeholders' group chaired by Environment Canada is developing a national strategy to address acidifying emissions in the post-2000 period. Another working group chaired by Environment Canada is devising guidelines for NOx emissions from coal-fired utility boilers constructed after the year 2000.
The Coal Association of Canada and the Canadian Electrical Association have each agreed to participate in Natural Resources Canada's Voluntary Climate Change Action Plan and Registry program, under which signed-up organizations voluntarily reduce their CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions by increasing their energy efficiency.
On heavy metals, Environment Canada began a process in 1995 to prepare recommendations on the management of metal and organic compounds declared toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
It should be noted that there are also positive environmental effects from coal use. Coal-fired generating stations produce large volumes of ash and waste products. Most ash is a powderlike fly ash and the remainder a coarser bottom ash. The use of fly ash in the manufacture of cement is increasing and results in reduced landfill costs for the utility and reduced emissions of carbon dioxide, particulates, organic compounds and sulphur dioxide for the cement manufacturer. Flue gas desulphurization units produce large volumes of gypsum byproduct. This material is increasingly being sold to wallboard manufacturers and again results in reduced landfill costs for the utility.
Since the beginning of this century, the character and organization of Canada's coal-producing industry has reflected pressures from labour and external circumstances. In the fall of 1906, operators of steam-coal mines in southern Alberta and eastern BC formed the Western Coal Operators' Association to make districtwide collective labour and wage agreements. Coal mine employees in the area belonged to District 18 United Mine Workers of America.
During WWI a director of coal operations was appointed to deal with labour relations and price adjustments in the absence of collective agreements. As a result, practically all of the larger operating companies in Alberta and eastern BC joined the Western Coal Operators' Association. This directorate continued in operation until 18 May 1920. On that date, the name of the association was changed to the Western Canada Coal Operators' Association. That association entered into a collective agreement with District 18 United Mine Workers of America.
In 1925 the UMW of A became ineffective in western Canada, as rival labour organizations and various purely local unions designed to deal directly with specific employers were organized. This erosion of collective labour power led to a reduction in membership in the Western Canada Coal Operators' Association and, in November 1925, the remaining members decided to disband it.
By 1937 the UMW of A had again succeeded in bringing within its orbit most of the employees at the steam-coal mines and employers were again forced to consider districtwide agreements. As a result, the Western Canada Bituminous Coal Operators Association was organized and included almost all steam coal operators.
During WWII all concerned concentrated on producing as much coal as possible. At the end of the war, the association included in its 1945 membership almost all thermal coal operators in Alberta and eastern BC. On 27 September 1952 the Domestic Coal Operators Association and the Western Canada Bituminous Coal Operators Association amalgamated to form the Coal Operators' Association of Western Canada, with power to deal with any matters affecting the industry as a whole, and exclusive power to make local and general agreements with labour, to settle disputes arising out of the agreements and to act upon legislation, federal or provincial, that might affect the membership.
In April 1971 the association became the Coal Association of Canada, which came to abandon its concern with labour and wage agreements and with the administration of welfare and retirement funds. On 24 December 1973 the federal government issued letters patent to this new association, with objectives appropriate to a national body representing the coal industry; ie, to project the views of the industry on the international, national and provincial levels.
Today the membership of the association includes almost all significant coal producers in Canada, coal-consuming utilities, railways transporting coal and many companies providing goods or services to the coal industry.