Mining in Alberta

The Past
  • Mining activity played a significant role in the early development of the province.
  • Over 1800 mines are known to have operated in Alberta.
  • Coal was first mined in Alberta to supply domestic heating needs. 
  • Lethbridge had its first coal mine in 1882, while the first mine in Edmonton was in 1883. The Lethbridge area had over a dozen underground coal mines that each mined in excess of 100,000 tonnes, but the last of these closed in the mid-1960s.
  • Some of the earliest mining in Alberta was within what is now Banff National Park. Coal was mined at Bankhead, a community just a few miles east of Banff townsite, to supply the Canadian Pacific Railway. Coal mining soon moved a few miles east of Banff to Canmore where the coal mine operated for 80 years.
  • The Crowsnest Pass in southern Alberta was also developed as a coal mining centre to supply coal to CPR.
  • A similar role was established in west-central Alberta for an area known as the Coal Branch. In this area south of Hinton a number of mines and towns developed to supply coal to the Grand Trunk and Canadian National Railways. The towns of Nordegg and Grande Cache both were developed for the purpose of coal mining.
  • In 1964 Great Canadian Oil Sands (now Suncor) started mining oil sands to produce crude bitumen, when Fort McMurray was a small trading post.
The Present
  • Commodities mined in Alberta include: oil sands; coal; limestone; salt; shale; dimension stone; ammonite shell; sandstone; sand and gravel.
  • Mining is a high-tech industry as many aspects of modern mining are controlled by computers.
  • There are 15 major mines and quarries in Alberta: 11 coal and oil sands mines; 4 major quarries.
  • Oil sands mining is "big":
    • Syncrude Canada operates the largest mine in the world.
    • Syncrude Canada uses some of the largest mining trucks ever built, with capacities of 380 tonnes each.
    • Between them, Syncrude and Suncor moved over 556 million tonnes of bituminous sands in 2000.
    • More information on Oil Sands.
  • Alberta is the cement manufacturing hub for the Prairie provinces. There are two major plants, one near Exshaw (west of Calgary) and the other in Edmonton.
  • In Alberta, salt is recovered by solution mining. Water is pumped down wells to dissolve the salt and the resulting salt brine is pumped to the surface.
  • Alberta has hundreds of sand and gravel pits of various sizes. Some sand and gravel is washed for placer minerals, such as gold and platinum, before being used for construction, fill and cement manufacturing.
  • Regional Benefits
    • Communities that have a significant dependence on mining for their livelihood include Fort McMurray; Hinton; Edson; Forestburg; Hanna; and Grande Cache.
    • Fort McMurray is now a city of approximately 50,000 and continues to grow with new oil sands developments.
    • There is one metal refinery/smelter in Fort Saskatchewan, producing nickel and cobalt
  • Province-Wide Benefits
    • Coal and oil sands mining contributes approximately 3.1% or $3.3 billion dollars to the provincial economy.
    • The minerals industry (excluding oil and gas) is estimated to directly employ about 10,000 people in Alberta.
  • Reducing Environmental Impacts
    • The Province has taken steps to reduce negative environmental impacts from mining:
    • In 1993 the province consolidated all of its environmental legislation into one comprehensive statute, the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act.
      • Under this legislation, all mines must operate under approved plans and have ongoing reclamation.
      • Environmental impact assessments must be conducted for all major mine proposals.
      • Reclamation certificates for lands disturbed by mining  must be issued by Alberta Environment before a company is relieved of responsibility for a property.
    • Considerable research work on tailings handling and reclamation techniques have been done in the province, both for oil sands and coal mining.
The Future
  • Coal and oil sands mining are expected to continue for many years.
  • Exploration work continues for diamonds, gold, platinum group metals, zinc, lead and other minerals.