Where is everyone going? Judging by the number of houses, boats and vehicles for sale by owner, you get the idea that there is a mass departure from Vancouver Island.
Why are people leaving?
The Comox Joint Venture is gearing up to start the Raven Coal Mine 80km northwest from Nanaimo near Fanny Bay.
What is the Comox Joint Venture?
Comox Joint Venture (CJV) is made up of Compliance Energy Corporation which controls 60% and the remaining 40% is owned by I-Comox Coal Inc. (a subsidiary of Itochu Corporation of Japan) and by LG International Investments Canada Limited (a subsidiary of consumer sector giant LG International Corp. of Korea).
The preferred transportation method is by coal trucks, although transporting coal by rail to Port Alberni is an alternative that will be analyzed in the applications. Transporting coal by rail to Port Alberni would require significant upgrading of the rail line between Buckley Bay and Port Alberni.
What is the controversy?
Many people might be wondering what could be so wrong with coal mining – after all Vancouver Island was mined for a century. The difference is how coal was mined. When coal mining was in its heyday on the Island, miners followed seams of coal, picking away with their hand tools. Coal rocks were hand sorted and loaded into carts that were pulled to the surface. Coal that was not used was left behind in the mine.
This is very different compared to how coal is extracted today using lots of water, heavy machinery and producing a lot of coal ash which causes acid run off.
What is the coal used for?
According to an investor website the Raven Coal Project is being promoted as “high volatile A Bituminous and is suitable for targeting the metallurgical coal market as a blend product or the thermal coal market.” CJV claims it can make metal from this coal or it can just be burned for energy.
To get metallurgical grade coal out of the Raven Deposit, up to 70% of the “run-of-mine” ore will be discarded.
Loss of groundwater
Underground mining lowers the water table and changes the flow of groundwater which affects streams. Enormous quantities are removed from the mine and used to wash the coal. What’s worse is that removing so much water creates a kind of funnel that drains water from an area much larger than the immediate coal-mining environment.
Coal mine methane
Coal mine methane is released during the coal mining process. It is 20 times more toxic as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Most coal mine methane comes from underground mines.
Vancouver Island coal contains a high percentage of sulphur. When sulphur comes into contact with water and air, sulphuric acid is formed. This acid dissolves other harmful metals and metalloids (like arsenic) in the surrounding rock. Many impacted streams have a pH of 4 or lower — similar to battery acid and are unable to support any aquatic life. This will directly impact shellfish harvesting.
This video talks about the aresenic levels in Long Lake in Campbell River near the Quinsam Coal Mine. Since the video was made in 2011, the province has allowed Quinsam to expand its operations without any environmental changes.
Coal Ash Landfill
Technically it is possible to use coal ash for other purposes, but it is far cheaper just to dump it somewhere. CJV’s main shareholder, Compliance Energy Corporation, has just hired a new director from Prairie State in Illinois where that company bypassed public opinion to create a coal ash landfill on 720 acres of farmland.
Coal ash contributes to the spread of acid drainage.
What about the jobs?
Coal mining is not a labour intensive operation as it was 100 years ago.
On the corner of Front Street in downtown Nanaimo near the cenotaph is a slab that reads “100 years of Coal 1849-1949”. It was put up by the United Mine Workers of America in 1987 as a gift to the city.
Just recently, the local media has been asking for residents to think of something that would attract tourists to come to Nanaimo. This encourages the question, “what has been the legacy of a hundred years of coal?” There is no spectacular landmark public building, park or monument that gives credit to all the mines that once pockmarked the mid island.
Ironically, even the remnants of the only pithead coal mine on Vancouver Island is on the verge of collapsing into oblivion like a neglected headstone surrounded by a chain link fence in Morden Colliery Heritage Provincial Park.
For more information on the Raven Coal Mine project you can visit Coal Watch Comox Valley .