by Arthur Caldicott
Ten years ago Beanstalk Capital Corp. was a new company with nothing more than a listing on the TSE Ventures Exchange.
Today it is Compliance Energy Corp., and its Raven Underground Coal Project is a proposal to mine 44 million tonnes (2.2 million a year) from a coal deposit near Fanny Bay on Vancouver Island.
The Comox Joint Venture (CJV) – 60% owned by Compliance and 20% each by two Asian trading companies – owns about 29,000 hectares (ha) of coal on the Island, 3,100 ha of which are targeted for the Raven mine. The surface workings, which include a coal preparation and wash plant, storage and loading areas, and waste storage, would occupy about 200 ha. The two minority partners have put up $11 million to acquire the coal, and to explore and validate the Raven project.
Raven became public last August, when the CJV submitted a project description to the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO), and began building its consultation record by talking to various groups in the Comox Valley.
An increasing number of people are concerned. By November, enough momentum had built that a public meeting in the 200 seat Fanny Bay Community Hall had to turn people away.
CoalWatch Comox Valley hit the ground running at that meeting – with more public meetings in Courtenay, Denman Island, and Qualicum Beach; a film night; and as the beneficiary of a series of hip hop awareness and fundraising benefits in Courtenay. “People are concerned about salmon, shellfishing, trucks, noise, dust. Acid drainage is a big worry, especially with high sulphur coal like this and the deplorable record at the Quinsam mine,” says Campbell Connor, the first chair of CoalWatch. “Coal mining has huge impacts on water. Enormous quantities are removed from the mine, it is used to wash the coal, and it is all returned to the environment.”
Connor’s issues form the tip of an iceberg of environmental impacts. CoalWatch is studying those impacts, and is informing the public through its meetings and website. And it plans to have an impact of its own, in the environmental assessment. “Any week now we expect a comment period to be announced by the EAO,” says John Snyder, who has taken over as chair from Connor. “It will be the only chance the public gets to ensure a complete list of issues is considered by the company in its application.”
No Strangers to Coal
Eight of the nine coal mines in BC are open pit operations, located in the East Kootenay and the Peace River areas, producing metallurgical coal which is exported for steel production. The Quinsam Mine in Campbell River produces thermal coal, sold for cement production and electricity generation. And that’s a perplexing thing about the Raven project – it is being pitched as a metallurgical coal operation, even though Vancouver Island has only ever produced lower rank thermal coal. To get metallurgical grade coal out of the Raven Deposit, up to 70% of the “run-of-mine” ore will be discarded. The reject pits will be filled with waste rock, low grade coal, ash, sulphur, and other toxins – most of it potentially acid generating material. A coal mine exacts a high environmental price. It’s the high dollar being paid for metallurgical coal that makes Raven attractive to the CJV, and which explains the six other mines in the queue at the EAO, and the three more which have received approval in the last five years.
With BC producing so much coal, and so many new mines being proposed, a glaring problem can no longer be ignored – coal is mostly carbon, and when used as intended, all that carbon will end up in the atmosphere, exacerbating the global climate crisis. The greenhouse gases (GHGs) which result from BC’s coal production are roughly equivalent to all the other GHGs which are produced domestically: 60-70 million tonnes per year each. The BC government has set a goal to reduce domestic GHG emissions by 33% by 2020. No such expectation is being placed on domestic coal production. It is an irreconcilable hypocrisy, and many people are saying that it’s time to stop – that this is the time, and Raven is the mine.
Planting beanstalks – now that would be a capital beginning.
See www.coalwatch.ca Arthur Caldicott is a writer and activist on energy isues and a frequent contributor to the Watershed Sentinel.